The four-part HBO documentary series Allen v. Farrow provides a number of revelations in the much-covered scandal that erupted in 1992 when Woody Allen was accused of sexually abusing the seven-year-old daughter he shared with actor Mia Farrow.
Allen, 85, has consistently denied all allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct involving his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, who is now 35.
While the scandal has been exhaustively covered over the last 30 years, Allen v. Farrow filmmakers Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy say they gained access to 60 boxes of case files that had been stored in a lawyer’s office since the 1990s.
Extensive home video footage by Farrow and others from the era adds to the detail, including the unseen videos that Farrow shot of Dylan recounting her alleged abuse.
Allen’s perspective on events is presented through the audiobook narration of his 2020 memoir Apropos of Nothing. He did not participate in the series.
“For the longest time I’ve been trying to set the record straight,” Dylan says in the opening moments of Episode 1. “No matter what you think you know, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Farrow, 76, describes her relationship with Allen as “the great regret of my life” and makes it clear she still feels blame for the alleged abuse.
“It’s my fault. I brought this guy into our family,” she says.
The explosive battle began on August 5, 1992, when Farrow was shocked to hear Dylan’s allegation that she had been sexually assaulted by her father in the attic of Farrow’s Connecticut home. Investigations were subsequently launched in Connecticut and New York.
Earlier that year, Farrow’s family had been jolted by the discovery that Allen had been having an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, who was then a college freshman. Allen and Previn, 50, married in 1997.
As child molestation investigations unfolded, Allen sued Farrow in New York for custody of Dylan and the two sons he shared with Farrow, Ronan and Moses. Allen lost, with the judge in the custody case delivering a scathing ruling critical of the filmmaker.
“I am less certain, however, than is the Yale-Newhaven team, that the evidence proves conclusively that there was no sexual abuse,” the judge wrote.
In 2014, Dylan spoke publicly for the first time with an open letter she posted on Nicholas Kristoff’s New York Times blog.
The docu-series leaves no doubt that the 1992 incidents were utterly devastating for Dylan and the entire Farrow family.
Here are 10 shocking moments from Allen v. Farrow:
1. Allen’s earlier behaviour
Long before Allen was publicly accused of abuse, his behaviour with Dylan raised eyebrows and even alarm bells. Farrow’s longtime friend Casey Pascal recalled being at park one day with her kids and as well as Farrow’s when Allen appeared unexpectedly. He was quickly by Dylan’s side playing with her.
“I remember thinking I had never seen anybody act like this with a child before and I really hope that it’s a good thing that’s happening,” Pascal says.
Earlier in the doc, Pascal remembers Allen’s behaviour with Dylan when she was just two years old.
“I saw this incredible intensity that Woody had for Dylan,” she says.
Ronan Farrow says he remembers that Dylan started to show signs she was scared of Allen. The two would be playing when Allen would come home and immediately call for Dylan.
“She was frightened of this stuff,” Ronan says. “She would talk to me at the time: ‘I don’t want to be with Daddy. Can we keep playing?'”
2. Allen’s focus on Dylan
The extreme amount of attention that Allen devoted to Dylan became a source of stress for the family.
“In time what it became was, there was nobody but the two of them,” Mia Farrow recalls. “It was just so one-track.”
Allen’s doting on Dylan included him once buying a plane ticket to transport a teddy bear that Dylan had left in a hotel on a European trip.
3. Allen’s alleged cuddling
Dylan Farrow describes troubling memories of spending time alone with Allen, with the two “cuddling” in bed with both of them wearing only underpants.
“He would just wrap his body around me very intimately,” she recalls.
Mia Farrow alleges that she sometimes would find Allen kneeling in front of Dylan with his head in her lap.
“I started feeling more like the policeman. Am I going to come in and see something that shouldn’t be happening?” she said. “I wanted to believe that it was [done] in innocence.”
4. A psychologist’s opinion
Mia Farrow remembers getting a call from a noted psychologist who told her she observed Allen interacting in public with Dylan. The psychologist wanted to warn Farrow that something was “off.”
“Then the floodgates opened for me,” Farrow said. After that, Allen agreed to see a therapist.
5. The PR counteroffensive
Dylan’s younger brother Ronan Farrow, 33, blasts Allen’s longtime publicist Leslee Dart for continuing to push a 1993 report by the Yale-New Haven Hospital Child Sex Abuse Clinic that concluded that Dylan was never sexually abused.
The tactics used by investigators in the Yale-New Haven inquiry are roundly criticised by child abuse experts in the documentary as extremely invasive and disturbing to a seven-year-old child, including the fact that Dylan was interviewed on nine separate occasions.
After Dylan Farrow spoke out publicly in 2014, Allen’s team mounted a PR counteroffensive. By this time, Ronan Farrow was a budding media personality and on-air reporter and anchor for NBC News and MSNBC.
“I at the time was in the media and was getting the emails from Leslee Dart and Woody’s powerful PR team,” Ronan Farrow says. “There were dozens of reporters from major news outlets on those emails. She basically positioned [the 1993 report] as, ‘Here’s this way you can attack this woman’s credibility. Here’s a validator you can put on air to say that she’s brainwashed.’
“When you have Leslee Dart on your payroll, that is someone who could say, ‘You better print this or I’m going to withhold my clients from you in the future.'”
Dart, who at present is a strategic advisor to 42West parent company Dolphin Entertainment, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
6. Carly Simon’s observations
Farrow’s lifelong friend Carly Simon weighs in on a disturbing aspect of Farrow and Allen’s relationship that she observed.
“I saw him little by little eroding her self-esteem, eroding her sense of self,” the musician says. “He didn’t like Mia to see her friends. He just wanted to isolate her. I don’t know what was behind him saying cruel things to her, whether or not he believed it or whether it was just a tactic to kick her down so that sheds be more under his rule, but she made up reasons for his behaviour.”
7. The Polaroid photos
In one of the most chilling moments, Farrow remembers being at Allen’s apartment and finding X-rated Polaroid photos of Soon-Yi that Allen had taken. She recalled being so stunned that she couldn’t breathe.
“They wouldn’t put them in Playboy,” she says. “They were Hustler pictures. Really, really raunchy pictures.”
Farrow said she remembers she couldn’t breathe. Even so, Farrow said she didn’t fault Soon-Yi because she was so young. When given the option to keep living with Farrow and her siblings, Soon-Yi moved in with Allen.
8. Ronan’s change of heart
Ronan Farrow, who became a pillar of the #MeToo movement as the investigative reporter whose work for the New Yorker helped take down Harvey Weinstein and drove the once-powerful CBS chief Leslie Moonves into exile, admits that he tried to stop Dylan from writing her 2014 essay.
“I said, ‘This is not worth it. You are going to make your entire life and identity about this one thing that happened to you as a kid,'” he says. “I hadn’t yet thoroughly interviewed her or looked at the facts. I just wanted to run away from this … All I wanted was for it to go away.”
He continues, “She and I had knockdown drag-out fights where I essentially told her to shut up.”
Farrow had a change of heart after, for the first time, he asked Dylan to tell her what happened in the attic. In the end, Dylan’s courage helped fuel her brother’s dogged determination to expose Weinstein, the disgraced film mogul who was sentenced in March 2020 to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault charges.
9. The phone recordings
The docu-series effectively demonstrates the power dynamic between Allen and Mia Farrow through recordings of tense telephone conversations between the two as the legal battles raged.
When she confronts him for charges as part of the custody fight that she was an unfit mother and heavily medicated, Allen coldly responds: “And I’m going to make them stick.”
At one point Farrow was certain she was being followed.
“It was really scary,” Farrow says.
10. Confronting the prosecutor
Allen v. Farrow makes a point of detailing the shortcomings of the legal system and the social services infrastructure designed to protect children who face the horror of abuse allegations and warring parents.
It also makes clear how Allen’s wealth and fame in his hometown helped quickly insulate the director from sordid and disturbing allegations to a degree that is startling when viewed through a post-#MeToo lens.
But one of the most hopeful moments in this most intense family saga is in the final instalment that includes footage of a recent meeting between Dylan and Frank Maco, the prosecutor in Connecticut who made the fateful decision to not press charges against Allen, despite his feeling there was probable cause, to spare Dylan the pain of having to testify in court.
In a tearful conversation captured in the fall of 2020, Dylan expresses her appreciation to Maco for sparing her “the circus” of a trial (“My mum always told me I had a lot to be very thankful to you for,” she says), but she also tells him point-blank she wishes she’d “had my day in court” back then.
Maco’s face registers the anguish that the case has caused him for nearly 30 years as he listens to his victim as an adult. In an extraordinary moment of reconciliation, he tells her he has long been ready for this most difficult conversation.
“I never want to hear that you blame yourself. I made the decision. Do I think about it? Of course,” he says. “As many sexual abuse cases as I’ve tried, as many murder cases as I’ve tried, what’s the case that’s going to be with me for the rest of my days? My decision in this investigation.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit their website. In an emergency, call 000.