Writer of Soon-Yi Profile Accused of Bias, Has Long History With Woody Allen

Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn - H Getty 2018
Getty Images

Daphne Merkin has been friends with the filmmaker for more than 40 years.

The writer of a profile on Soon-Yi Previn, wife of filmmaker Woody Allen, is being accused of bias due to her decades-long friendship with the filmmaker.

Daphne Merkin wrote the story, published online Sunday on New York Magazine's website Vulture, in which Previn breaks her silence on the controversy surrounding her husband and his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow and ex-partner Mia Farrow. She also alleges years of abuse by her adopted mom, Mia.

While Merkin notes in the piece that she's been friends with Allen for more than 40 years, many on Twitter — including several journalists and at least one of her New York colleagues — was quick to condemn her and the publication for allowing a sympathetic figure to write the profile.

For example, an online search yields several stories detailing her close relationship with the filmmaker over the years, noting on her website that her first fan letter was from Allen, telling the New York Times that he once offered her his therapist and telling the New York Post that they "share our Holocaust books." She also gushes over Allen in her book The Fame Lunches, noting that she wrote him a letter in her early 20s and that "I had fixed on [Allen] as my alter ego" and that "he was the perfect non-celebrity for a non-groupie like me."

Dylan's brother Ronan, one of her strongest supporters, issued the following statement in response to the story: "I owe everything I am to Mia Farrow. She is a devoted mom who went through hell for her family all while creating a loving home for us. But that has never stopped Woody Allen and his allies from planting stories that attack and vilify my mother to deflect from my sister’s credible allegation of abuse. As a brother and a son, I’m angry that New York Magazine would participate in this kind of a hit job, written by a longtime admirer and friend of Woody Allen’s. As a journalist, I’m shocked by the lack of care for the facts, the refusal to include eyewitness testimony that would contradict falsehoods in this piece, and the failure to include my sister’s complete responses. Survivors of abuse deserve better."

Dylan also tweeted out a lengthy statement in response to the story, saying in part that: "The idea of letting a friend of an alleged predator write a one-sided piece attacking the credibility of his victim is disgusting."

New York Magazine spokesperson Lauren Starke defended the story before it was published, saying: "Soon-Yi Previn is telling her story for the first time, and we hope people will withhold judgment until they have read the feature. Daphne Merkin’s relationship to Woody Allen is disclosed and is a part of the story, as is Soon-Yi’s reason for speaking out now. I would add that Daphne approached Soon-Yi about doing this piece, not vice-versa. We reached out to both Mia and Dylan Farrow for comment; Dylan chose to speak through her representative. The story is transparent about being told from Soon-Yi’s point of view."

Later Sunday, Starke added: "This is a story about Soon-Yi Previn, and puts forward her perspective on what happened in her family. We believe she is entitled to be heard. Daphne Merkin’s relationship to Woody Allen is disclosed and is a part of the story, as is Soon-Yi’s reason for speaking out now. We hope people will read it for themselves."

Merkin doesn't go into her history with Allen beyond writing: "I myself have been friends with Allen for over four decades and have always been somewhat mystified by him, in part because of the almost Aspergian aloneness of the man and in part because of the genuine diffidence — the lack of a discernible ego — that lies just beneath both a lifetime’s worth of ambitious productivity and his nebbishy film persona."

Many on social media were quick to criticize.

In response to the backlash, Merkin spoke to the New York Post, via email, days after the story published. 

Merkin said she emailed Previn directly to ask her to do the piece, which she pitched to New York magazine as  “what Soon-Yi feels and thinks.” She said Allen tried "more than once" to kill the story: "I think his view was, ‘Ignore this; don’t get involved.'"

She said magazine editors were aware of her friendship with Allen and that she only met Previn "a handful of times" before working on the story. Since the story was a "human interest" one, she didn't see her relationship with Allen as being a problem.

“I felt I was opening the door on their townhouse and showing us an odd but affecting couple," said Merkin. "It’s strange how critics don’t think Soon-Yi deserves to be heard, that the abuse she suffered, because it was at the hands of a woman and not a man, is somehow less valid. My intention was to let a silenced woman’s voice be heard. Far from seeing the piece as anti-feminist, I think the attacks on it are sexist (even — or especially — when made by women) and more than a tad racist."

A rep for the magazine added to the Post: "This was always meant to be told as Soon-Yi’s account. We knew from the time that we got the first draft that other people involved would dramatically disagree; we worked carefully to represent their perspective in the story."

Sept 21, 6:30 a.m. This story has been updated with Merkin's Post interview.