Sarah Seltzer grew up a fan of Woody Allen movies — her parents showed her "Sleeper," "Annie Hall," and "Everyone Says I Love You" once she was old enough to get the jokes. As a 31-year-old writer living in New York, she has admired Allen's more recent work, the bittersweet "Midnight in Paris," the meaty roles for women in "Blue Jasmine."
So when the New York Times website published an open letter from Allen's adopted daughter Dylan Farrow last week, alleging that the director sexually assaulted her at age 7, Seltzer was thrown. The first time Allen's relationship with Dylan made news, during his ugly custody battle with her adoptive mother, Mia Farrow, in the early 1990s, Seltzer was too young to understand the story. Now she was chilled by it.
"I found the letter deeply convincing and very sad," Seltzer said. "I felt very sorry for Dylan and for all the pain that she testified to in the letter. I sort of remember hearing stories about this when I was in elementary school, but it was a little over my head."
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Allen, who had kept mum all week, responded in a New York Times letter of his own which went online Friday night. "Of course, I did not molest Dylan," said the filmmaker, whose "Blue Jasmine" is up for three Academy Awards and first Broadway musical is a month from beginning previews. "No one wants to discourage abuse victims from speaking out, but one must bear in mind that sometimes there are people who are falsely accused and that is also a terribly destructive thing."
Some of the most vocal and aggrieved reactions to Farrow's letter have often come from women under 40. These include 27-year-old "Girls" creator Lena Dunham, who called Farrow's words "courageous"; film director Miranda July, 39, who tweeted an excerpt of a 1976 People magazine interview in which Allen joked about sharing a love nest with 12-year-old girls; and 17-year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, who engaged in a conversation with her Twitter followers about whether she could still watch Allen's movies.
"I've loved his movies and cited them over the years but I don't want to contribute any more to a culture that tells survivors of abuse that their voices do not matter," Gevinson tweeted.
It's predictable, perhaps, that the demographic most outwardly troubled by the renewed allegations is a group more likely to identify with 29-year-old Dylan Farrow than with her 78-year-old father.
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"It's not surprising that a new generation has found Woody Allen, cause he makes great movies," Allen biographer Eric Lax said. "For people 40 and above, they've already lived through this cycle 20 years ago. They made up their minds one way or another. But like the 20-year cicada, this thing has popped up again."
Many in Allen's younger female audience began to know him in the midst of his recent, late-career successes, a period in which he has cast appealing actresses like Scarlett Johansson, Rachel McAdams and Cate Blanchett and swoon-worthy leading men like Owen Wilson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Javier Bardem.
They're also a group more apt to be frank about sexual abuse. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, around 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. suffers some form of sexual molestation during childhood. While rape is an ancient issue, talking openly about it is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Women under 40 have grown up attending Take Back the Night rallies on their college campuses and reading blog entries about sexual abuse on websites like Buzzfeed and Jezebel; a post on Buzzfeed from this past week, a beginner's guide to rape culture, has been recommended on Facebook 31,000 times.
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"Sensibilities have changed," said Illinois writer Roxane Gay, 39, who penned a piece supportive of Dylan Farrow on Salon. "We're more inclined now to give the victim the benefit of the doubt. As a woman who's experienced sexual violence, I'm predisposed to believe the victim."
Many of the young women sharing their feelings about Dylan Farrow on social media aren't old enough to remember the first time the director's family drama erupted publicly, after Allen began dating Mia Farrow's 19-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, whom he later married. At that time an investigative team from the Yale-New Haven hospital said they found no evidence that Allen abused Dylan, and suggested that she had been coached, but a Connecticut judge awarded custody of Allen and Farrow's three children to Farrow.