Mia Farrow with her children Ronan (left) and Dylan. Hide HBO caption
My first thought when I heard about HBO’s documentaries Allen v. Farrow heard was that this moment was inevitable.
In this present cultural moment, we are going through a long overdue review of past pop culture scandals and reevaluating them with new sensitivity. After learning hard lessons about the structural nature of racism and sexism – and the ability of powerful, charismatic celebrities to craft their own narrative and avoid consequences – journalists returned to the stories of Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein and Britney Spears returned new, sharper insights.
So it only makes sense that this project should come now to tackle one of the worst Hollywood scandals: allegations that Woody Allen, one of the most famous film directors / writers / actors of his generation, molested his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was seven in 1992 Year old.
Allen has refused to abuse Dylan or be sexually inappropriate and has not been charged with a crime that the documentaries refer to several times.
Allen v. HBO’s Farrow goes deep and offers in-depth interviews with Dylan Farrow, her mother and Allen’s ex-girlfriend Mia Farrow, her little brother (and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist) Ronan Farrow, and several other siblings who supported Dylan’s allegations against her Father. In four episodes, about an hour each, the program covers a lot of ground.
“I’ve been trying to break the record for a long time,” says 35-year-old Dylan, whose detailed, soul-seeking incest accusation caught the hearts of Allen v. Farrow forms. “Because whatever you think you know, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
We see a video of Dylan Farrow as a child narrating the allegations. We hear audio from a phone conversation Allen had with Mia Farrow and assure her that he is not recording the conversation – only to admit a moment later to his attorney that he is recording it (he thought Farrow couldn’t hear him; that Audio exists because she recorded her phone calls as well). We see Ronan Farrow claim that Allen would only pay for his college education if he publicly denounced his mother and sister, which he refused.
What ‘Allen v. Farrow ‘didn’t: Original interviews with everyone or anyone close to the family who could be on his side.
Along the way, the documentary series also examines the culture surrounding these explosive allegations. How celebrity worship can protect big names from the consequences. How powerful people’s publicists can intimidate news outlets by threatening to deny them access to other powerful customers. And why it is easier for the public to believe a story in which a vengeful mother might make false abuse allegations than to believe that a father who appears upright could molest his own child.
What Allen v. Farrow doesn’t have: original interviews with everyone or anyone close to the family who could be on his side. This includes Mia Farrow’s two children who spoke out for Allen – adoptive son Moses Farrow, who accused his mother of abuse, and stepdaughter, who became Allen’s wife in 1997, Soon-Yi Previn. (The series notes that Allen and Soon-Yi failed to respond to interview requests and Moses declined to attend.)
The result is documentaries that humanize Dylan Farrow, Mia Farrow, and their busy family, while leaving a strange, distant presence to Allen. In particular, the film features Mia Farrow as a concerned and observant mother, contrary to Allen’s claim that she is vengeful and angry and trains her child to make baseless accusations. Instead of an exclusive interview, Allen often appears in clips from the audio book of his 2020 memoir Apropos of Nothing, which he recorded. But the clips, which show some kind of clueless self-focus, aren’t particularly kind to him.
“Imagine my sadness when Dylan not only didn’t want to see me, but instead wrote an open letter saying I had molested her,” says Allen in an excerpt from the audio book in Allen v. Farrow. “Openness is important because the IPO strategy is not to solve something, but to smear me. Her mother’s goals.”
The series describes how Mia Farrow started dating everyone when they were both big stars. Farrow’s marriage to conductor Andre Previn ended and they had seven children. Although Allen said he wanted nothing to do with their children, the couple stayed together for 12 years and had separate apartments. They later adopted Dylan and Farrow gave birth to Satchel, later named Ronan.
Ultimately, ‘Allen v. Farrow ‘the most personable and complete narrative of Dylan Farrow’s story, delivered in a way that also destroys Allen’s reputation as a friend, father, film director and public figure.
Viewers learn of Soon-Yi’s reluctance and Allen’s reported fixation on Dylan. Then, in 1992, Mia Farrow spotted photos of a naked Soon-Yi at Allen and discovered he was having an affair with his stepdaughter, who was in college at the time.
The discovery sends shock waves through the family, and when the couple’s relationship breaks up, Dylan says Allen took them to an attic and molested them.
There’s a lot to consider here: suggestions for misguided investigations, cover-ups, and bruising campaigns. There are questions about Allen’s work as a director in films with older men’s stories in romances with young women, and there are questions about stars who continued to support and work with him, even as Dylan started talking after the #MeToo movement.
Ultimately, Allen v. Farrow the most personable and complete narrative of Dylan Farrow’s story, delivered in a way that also undermines Allen’s reputation as a friend, father, film director, and public figure – by holding up his past behavior in some ways to modern sensibilities that make him look terrible .
But when telling a story that is so much of one side of such a tangled and controversial family problem, questions remain about what can be left out without the direct involvement of the man who is so much accused.
This story was edited for radio by Nina Gregory and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer.