With the explosion of documentaries that have come out recently, the public has had the opportunity to take another look at the scandals that defined yester-year. And in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, one thing has become increasingly clear— the media has failed women time and time again. From Mia Farrow and Woody Allen’s high publicity custody battle, to Britney Spears’ high profile fall from grace, the media has been less than kind to the fairer sex, profiting off of the worst moments of these women’s lives, and turning their misery into entertainment. In 2021, these women are getting the chance to reclaim their stories— forcing a moment of reckoning for both the media and the public at large.
Last month, the New York Times documentary: Framing Britney Spears took the world by storm, opening a metaphorical floodgate of discussion about the role of the paparazzi in Britney Spears’ famous mental breakdown, and forcing the public to consider how much responsibility we had in her decline. The documentary centered around Spears’ court-sanctioned conservatorship, while simultaneously retelling a story that was all too familiar to us in the early 2000s: the story of Britney Spears’ rapid fall from grace.
Through oscillating between the present and the past, the documentary was able to shed light on just how powerful the media was, and how it was able to control the narrative, turning Spears’ mental health problems into a massive joke, and treating the star’s most humiliating moments as a chance for profit. Indeed, it seemed as though the world was betting against Britney from the very beginning.
Several weeks after Framing Britney Spears was released, HBO released the first episode of their four-part docuseries: Allen V. Farrow. Like Framing Britney Spears, Allen V. Farrow takes a new look at one of the most infamous celebrity scandals in recent years, raising important questions about the media’s culpability, and reminding us that underneath all of the glamour, celebrities are people too.
In Allen V. Farrow, Mia Farrow gets the chance to tell the story which she has never had the opportunity to tell before—a story which she has tried over and over again to tell, but unfortunately no one would listen to her. Like Spears, her story is indeed a familiar one to us, it was a story that shaped pop culture in the 90s, and turned Farrow’s private life into a series of tabloid headlines.
After Farrow accused filmmaker Woody Allen of sexually assaulting their adopted daughter, you would think that Allen would be made the obvious villain in this story. Unfortunately though, that wasn’t the case. And even after Allen eloped with Farrow’s other adopted daughter Soon-Yi, the media was quick to choose sides, favoring the charismatic filmmaker over the distraught mother.
In the years that followed, Allen was given plenty of space to share his side of the story, while Farrow became blacklisted and ostracized. Allen seemed to feed into the tabloid’s appetite for sensational headlines, conducting countless interviews about the scandal, and even discussing it in his 2020 memoir: Apropos of Nothing. With headlines that emerged such as: “Woody Loves Mia’s Daughter” and “Woody In Love: Allen Speaks Out About Mia’s Daughter,” it was very easy for the public to lose sight of the real victims in this story. And that is exactly what happened— until recently, that is.
With the release of Allen V. Farrow, the public is once again forced to consider the people behind the headlines, and in doing that, we are forced to reckon with the obvious miscarriage of justice that occured. Mia Farrow’s most painful moments were reduced to headlines, and the man who caused her all this pain escaped culpability. The film forces us to reanalyze the distorting effect of Allen’s celebrity, and how the media was able to control and warp the narrative. The film removes the veil of celebrity from the story, allowing the audience to understand the story for what it is: a gross miscarriage of justice.
The importance of both documentaries can not be understated. In a post #MeToo world, society has been forced to reckon with the injustices of the past, in order to create a fairer, more equitable future. These documentaries shed light on the multifaceted nature of victimization, and have shown the world that even powerful celebrities can become victims. Framing Britney Spears has opened up a dialogue about mental health problems, a topic which has been considered taboo for far too long. Allen V. Farrow takes a compassionate look at the victims of sexual assault, and has opened up a dialogue about how powerful people have been able to evade justice. Both films have shown us the power of narratives, and the ways in which they inform our reality—allowing us to feel comfortable showing animosity to those we should be showing compassion to. And ultimately, both documentaries share a similar villain— those who are holding the cameras.