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Algorithmic Bias / Feminism / Tech

No Safe Spaces: Misogynistic Harassment in Niche Digital Communities

"Their crusade wasn’t simply to defend their lord and savior, Woody Allen--it was to intimidate and berate female objectors into silence."

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Written by Emi Grant.

I wasn’t expecting to find minor internet notoriety when I joined the New Zealand-born movie reviewing app, Letterboxd. Though the site has fed my compulsion to track and categorize every film I’ve seen in the past 22 years, I typically garner a modest 5-10 likes on a review. My posts range anywhere from a short quip to a full-blown, scene-by-scene recap depending on the day. During the pandemic, I’ve found Letterboxd to be a welcome social outlet that combines my obsessive moving watching habit with my need to interact with people. I averaged between one and three films a day and was excited to find a community who were also watching Fight Club for the first time about 30 years late.

My tiny social bubble finally popped the day I wrote a review of Allen v. Farrow, the docuseries that details Woody Allen’s alleged sexual abuse of his daughter, Dylan Farrow, and his subsequent marriage to his adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. When I made my way to Letterboxd, I noticed a disturbing amount of support for Allen, the credibly disgraced pedophile filmmaker. Reviews from primarily male users labeled the documentary “propaganda” and called Allen “the greatest director of the 20th century”.

Without thinking, I fired off a review that expressed my frustration with the overwhelmingly supportive and frankly misogynistic audience. It read: some of you are real weirdos for siding with a literal pedophile. and stop using ‘i was raised on his movies’ as an excuse, you’re grown. find new movies. Certainly not my most eloquent review, but it got the point across.

The next few hours were a flurry of likes, comments, and a whole lot of rage. Dozens of bearded men and anonymous Pulp Fiction fans flooded my page with half-baked defenses, sent DMs to my linked Twitter account, and even accused me of spreading propaganda. I was referred to as an “idiot” who “ignore[d] Mia Farrow’s blatant abuse of her children.” I would later find out that nonsequiturs about a problematic woman were a common defense for Allen’s fans.

Though the post had a modest 967 likes, I felt the ripple effect of a large sub-community using my page as a public forum to discuss the events of the past 20 years. When I finally restricted comments for the sake of my own sanity, one Twitter DM told me I was “limiting free speech.”

People think harassment only exists on the largest social media sites like twitter, fb, instagram, but this article shows that it is endemic and exists across all spaces.

While yes, I did spend my afternoon deleting hateful and obnoxious comments, this was within my right. I am not a professional critic backed by an institution. This two-sentence review was not placed in the opinion section of the New Yorker. My account was not the steps of the capitol building or a public square protected by the first amendment. I saw their right to free speech and countered with my right to ignore them.

This is apparently the consequence that women face for entering even semi-public discourse. Though my account has just under 1,500 followers (all of them fiercely feminist and anti-pedophile), I faced the wrath of a vocal and condescending crowd of Woody Allen fans that I had no desire to commune with.

It wasn’t lost on me that these commenters weren’t satisfied with writing their own reviews. They didn’t want to write op-eds, argue with paid critics, or even turn the same vitriol toward male reviewers who expressed the same sentiment. Their crusade wasn’t simply to defend their lord and savior, Woody Allen–it was to intimidate and berate female objectors into silence.

Though I recognize that my case certainly isn’t the worst, it is a microcosm of what all creative women go through. Not only was I held to an unreasonable standard (to defend Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, the journalists who covered the story, and the filmmakers), I was expected to hold a public forum for those who disagreed with me. To patiently, empathetically listen to and validate people who I fundamentally disagree with.

Though I recognize that my case certainly isn’t the worst, it is a microcosm of what all creative women go through online.

This method of bombarding me with negative comments mirrors the PR tactics of male abusers in Hollywood. First, they accuse a woman of lying, then they deflect to an entirely different issue and demand that she defend that. Finally, they put her on the defensive and drudge up any negative action or statement she or anyone close to her they can find. If a woman fails to defend herself from any of these accusations, she is deemed manipulative, bitchy, or even abusive in some cases.

It’s easy and almost normal to feel overly sensitive as a woman in criticism. We are asked to worship violent depictions of misogyny in film and to excuse the abhorrent actions of the men who make them. We are expected to empathize with protagonists who are unfamiliar and often counterintuitive to our experiences. When we fail to separate the art from the artist, we are accused of lacking critical thinking.

The reality is, these rigid guidelines bar anyone outside of the expected white, male experience from gaining access to fruitful and public discussions about art. It’s far simpler for the people in power to bully marginalized perspectives into submission than to critically reflect on their own actions. Despite their attempts, I will be posting my controversial opinions on Letterboxd.


About the Author

Emi is a first-year MFA student at the New School in New York City. She covers a range of topics from film to politics, but mainly sticks to the culture/entertainment vein. Currently, Emi writes film reviews and loves spending time in Brooklyn.

Follow on IG: @emi.grant | Follow on Twitter: @


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