With the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017, many powerful men have been brought down after decades of committing mistreatment, sexual harassment, and assault against women. Hollywood, especially, faced a lot of backlash. Women came out and voiced what had happened to them while working in an industry that enabled these men to run rampant for so long. We are going through a cultural moment of looking at past pop culture scandals under a different lens and analyzing them with fresh eyes and more awareness. Upon hearing about HBO’s docuseries Allen v. Farrow (2021), I was immediately interested.
Many have heard about the long standing family drama between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. I was around Dylan Farrow’s age when it all played out in the media, but I remember cartoons like Animaniacs and The Simpsons poking fun at Woody Allen’s disturbing relationship with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon Yi. It’s been twenty-nine years since the sexual assault allegations and custody battles played out, but the timing of this docuseries is more relevant than ever.
Directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, Allen v. Farrow is told in four parts. Similar to other works for which the directors are known, this series uncovers new evidence and tackles the difficult topic of incest abuse and Dylan and Mia Farrow’s side of this infamous case. Mia and Woody had a twelve-year relationship, but chose never to marry and live together. The adoption of Dylan and birth of Ronan marked the beginning of Woody Allen’s interest in Farrow’s children. Farrow had eight biological and adopted children when Allen first met her, including Soon Yi.
In the first episode, Dylan Farrow recalls growing up with Woody as her father, “I was always in his clutches. He was always hunting me.” The episode goes on to describe the inappropriate, obsessive behavior Woody exhibited toward his daughter as seen by both the family and others around at the time. Dylan looks through old family photos that are strategically cut with Woody Allen obviously missing from all of them. She says sadly, “It has taken me a long time to reconcile that you can love somebody and be afraid of them.” Finally at 35, Dylan is bravely sharing her story that has been overlooked by the media and Hollywood, and claimed to be a falsehood made up by Mia to get at Woody.
The second half of this docuseries presents the disturbing possibility that for decades we’ve been groomed by this mastermind filmmaker and his powerful PR team. Perhaps we have allowed this man to gaslight us with these stories where he normalizes severely older men having relationships with barely legal young woman. His intrigues have rippled throughout our entire culture to reinforce patriarchal power structures that block survivors of abuse from attaining help or justice.
Since this case broke, Woody Allen has created a story in which he is merely the victim of a vindictive woman out for his demise. Mia Farrow was portrayed by the media as a jealous woman, scorned when she discovered he had found true love with one of her older children. How was the media able to overlook the fact that she found nude Polaroids of her naked daughter in his apartment? Why aren’t we talking about how completely disturbing this situation is in the first place? Allen v. Farrow makes the claim that Soon Yi was barely out of high school when Woody began grooming her. Somehow, Woody Allen was able to sell the media the love story of his relationship with his ex’s daughter and make claims that Mia Farrow was the crazy and inappropriate one for not accepting it.
Dylan’s molestation occurred around this time, and it’s excruciating to hear that many would believe Mia Farrow put her young daughter up to something so horrific to get back at Woody Allen. Such a reaction completely dismisses this now woman’s traumatic experience with someone she loved and thought she could trust. We owe it to Dylan Farrow to hear her side of this story, and it pains me it has taken this long for many to finally listen. Allen v. Farrow shows us a humanizing, vulnerable side of this family’s crisis and the pain they still carry with them.
Since 2018, Woody Allen’s career has finally been waning in North America. When Amazon shelved his film Rainy Day in New York (2019), that was the first year since 1981 that Woody Allen didn’t come out with a film. Hollywood celebrities, who once defended him, have now initiated apologies and are standing with Dylan. Many now refuse to work with him. This docuseries provides some very damning evidence of a powerful, narcissistic man given a pass time and time again. Finally, we’re not having it anymore. Dylan and Mia Farrow’s stories deserve this kind of platform and it deserves to be viewed–as hard as it may be to stomach.
Overall, Allen v. Farrow shook me to the core, gave me nightmares, and made me reflect on many things. I grew up watching Woody Allen’s films and studied them in film school, but I never quite understood his appeal. Now, more than ever, I’m glad I never did. I believe Dylan Farrow and stand with her.