Susan Campbell: ‘Allen v. Farrow’ will put spotlight back on infamous case

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Andy Thibault has spent a lifetime covering courts, cops and corruption, and in the ’90s, as an editor at The Register Citizen, he reported a story involving a shocking accusation that movie director and actor Woody Allen had sexually abused his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow, then 7.

At the time, the little girl lived in Connecticut with her mother, the actor Mia Farrow, who had been Allen’s longtime companion.

Like a dog with a bone, Thibault, now city editor at the Waterbury Republican-American, continued to pursue the story for his newspaper, and eventually, for Connecticut magazine, and The New York Post, and his blog, Cool Justice.

Allen, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing — including in a recent memoir — was never charged with the crime — in no small part because a Yale New Haven Hospital Child Sexual Abuse Clinic report concluded that Dylan Farrow was not sexually abused, and that she either made up the stories or had been manipulated by her mother to accuse Allen.

The press — mostly — moved on. Allen continued to attract bold-faced names to his projects, and only a few stalwarts — mostly Thibault — remained committed to the story.

That’s about to change with “Allen v. Farrow,” a four-part documentary that debuts Sunday on HBO. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have turned the camera back on, using what “The Hollywood Reporter” calls “explosive” new information to make the case that we shouldn’t have moved on so fast.

The filmmakers have produced other meticulously researched documentaries about sexual abuse in the military and on college campuses, including 2012’s “The Invisible War” and 2015’s “The Hunting Ground,” among others. This docuseries is a natural progression; in an interview with the New York Times, Ziering called the childhood sexual abuse and incest “the third rail,” the topic no one wants to talk about.

Reviews call the docuseries a “horrifying indictment” of Allen (Daily Beast) and “very powerful” (Scott Feinberg, of The Hollywood Reporter, who also wrote on Twitter, “I went in pretty convinced of one thing and came out pretty convinced of another.” Another reviewer said the docuseries is “one of the bravest things you'll ever see, and will make you regret ever brushing by the details of what Woody did.” Still another review suggests the docuseries may be the catalyst to move you to boycott Allen’s films, if you aren’t already boycotting them.

Thibault, the tenacious guardian spirit who kept the light burning, is credited as a research consultant for the docuseries. In fact, in a 2018 Guardian article, investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, Dylan’s younger brother who won a Pulitzer for his coverage of Hollywood predator Harvey Weinstein, credits Thibault’s reporting around Farrow’s accusations with encouraging him to speak out in support of his sister.

Dylan Farrow, who was born in Texas, was adopted by Mia Farrow in 1985. At the time the family began dealing with her sexual abuse, Allen was discovered in an affair with one of Mia Farrow’s other adopted children, Soon-Yi Previn. Previn and Allen later married and are still together. Previn, too, has continued to protest that her husband is innocent.

(Full disclosure: In April 2018, Dylan Farrow spoke at a sexual assault survivor panel at Quinebaug Valley Community College, where I was also a speaker and Thibault was an organizer. Farrow was the last speaker of the evening, and she began by saying that she didn’t often speak in public, but that for survivors, “even with these truths confirmed or heavily implied with evidence, the assailant still gets the benefit of the doubt.”)

In fact, Dylan Farrow has been trying to tell her story for years. She first wrote publicly about the assault in 2014 for the New York Times. Two years later, her brother wrote about it an op-ed in Hollywood Reporter. His essay got far more attention, and as Dylan Farrow said at Quinebaug, “Why did it take a white man repeating my story for it to be believed?”

Thibaut signed a document that doesn’t allow him to talk in detail about his involvement with the documentary, but in a 2015 interview with HuffPost Live, he said that during the ‘90s, he covered Allen and his cadre of lawyers filing complaints against local Connecticut prosecutors. Thibault said in that interview that Allen hired private investigators to dig up dirt on cops and prosecutors, and the Allen team also hired detectives to follow the Farrow children to a local mall to see if they could catch them doing something - like shoplifting -- that would discredit them as witnesses.

He called the Yale study “pathetic malpractice, at best.” Others have questioned the veracity of the study, including a judge in the family’s custody case.

As the docuseries is gaining attention, Elle magazine recently released its April cover story on Farrow, who is now a 35-year old author of a young adult fantasy novel. She is married, and a mother, and lives near her mother in western Connecticut.

For a journalist, this is the kind of story that could eat you alive. Maybe Thibault has survived by remembering his journalistic tenets. The powerful are no better than the rest of the world. A crime is a crime. When the Huffington reporter asked Thibault how he felt about the case — whose side was he on, in other words, Thibault answered, in true journalist’s fashion, “I’m not on Team Mia or Team Woody,” he said. “I’m on Team Newspaper — or Magazine.”