New HBO series, ‘Allen v. Farrow,’ revisits sordid scandal

The four-part series will premiere on February 21 in the US and in Israel on February 22

WOODY ALLEN and Mia Farrow appear in the 1986 film ‘Hannah and Her Sisters.’ (photo credit: YES/ORION PICTURES INTERNATIONAL)
WOODY ALLEN and Mia Farrow appear in the 1986 film ‘Hannah and Her Sisters.’
There are three basic positions on the Woody Allen sex abuse scandal: Team Mia, Team Woody and Team I-Don’t-Want-to-Hear-Any-More-About-It.
A new documentary series, Allen v. Farrow, produced by HBO and directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, attempts to cater to the first two camps in a program that will likely be more satisfactory to those who are sympathetic to Farrow. The four-part series will premiere on February 21 in the US and in Israel on February 22, on Cellcom TV, Yes Docu, Hot 8 and Hot HBO at 10 p.m.(and Hot VOD, Yes VOD and StingTV).
For those who have forgotten the details, director Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow were a long-term couple in the 80s and 90s who collaborated on 13 films, many of which were career high points for both of them, including the Oscar-winning Hannah and Her Sisters. Together, they adopted a girl, Dylan Farrow, and had a biological son, Ronan Farrow, now a journalist. Allen also became an adopted father to Farrow’s adopted son, Moses.
In 1992, the couple split up after Farrow discovered Allen was having an affair with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Allen and Previn married in 1997 and are still married. Around the time that Allen went public about the relationship, Farrow accused Allen of molesting Dylan.
Allen unequivocally denied the accusation and accused Farrow of coaching their daughter, who was then seven years old, because of her anger over his affair with Previn. In March 1993, after a six-month investigation, the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital concluded that Dylan had not been sexually abused. Allen sued for custody of their children, which was denied by a judge who found that Allen had been “grossly inappropriate” with his daughter but had not sexually abused her. Later in 1993, the Connecticut state prosecutor said that although he had “probable cause” to press charges against Allen for abuse, he chose not to pursue these charges in order to avoid causing Dylan to suffer more trauma in “a questionable prosecution.”
This is where the matter rested for many years. Allen continued to make a film a year on average, movies that won critical acclaim and Oscars. But with the advent of the #MeToo movement, ironically spearheaded by Ronan Farrow’s articles about Harvey Weinstein in The New Yorker, Dylan’s charge became an issue once again. Dylan has written op-eds and given interviews describing the sexual abuse and pleading to be taken seriously. In a piece published on The New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof’s blog in 2014, just before Cate Blanchett won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Dylan described a long-term pattern of sexual abuse. “What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?” she wrote. “... Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse. So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormentor.”
ALLEN’S TONE-DEAF defenses of himself have not helped his case in the court of public opinion. He declined to be interviewed for the HBO documentary, as did Previn and Moses Farrow, who has been an outspoken defender of his father for years. But the documentary uses Allen’s own words from an audiobook version of his 2020 memoir, Apropos of Nothing, in which he continues to deny his daughter’s allegation.
Other new material featured in the documentary are recent interviews with Farrow and Dylan, as well as with social workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital who were consulted early in the case, and whose notes were destroyed with no explanation. There are also taped phone calls between Allen and Farrow from when they first split up, and the videotape Farrow made of Dylan describing the abuse, family photos and home movies.
But the series goes on to detail behavior by Allen that, while it may strike many as creepy or immoral, does not have direct bearing on the case. He has tended, throughout his career, to cast himself opposite much younger women. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld would say. But by today’s standards, it’s more than a bit bizarre to see Allen at 42 playing opposite Mariel Hemingway, then 18, who had the role of his 17-year-old girlfriend in Manhattan. He cast women more than 30 years his junior as his love interests a number of times, including Julia Roberts in Everybody Says I Love You.
In recent years, it has come out that he dated two teen girls when he was in his 40s. And, of course, there is the relationship with Previn, who had grown up with him as a father figure in her life for over a decade, a virtual stepfather if not a legal one. Again, no one is saying that any of this is illegal, but while it might make people less likely to feel sympathy for him, it is irrelevant to the abuse case. He doesn’t do himself any favors with his self-pitying defense from his memoir, though: Woody Allen is not a good character witness for himself.
However, Dylan, now a 35-year-old married mother, comes off as credible and far more likable than either of her parents. One thing is indisputable: She is a victim who has suffered and it’s impossible to hear her speak without wishing her well.
At one point, Farrow says,“It doesn’t matter what’s true. It matters what’s believed” and all the parties in the case feel that they were not believed. In the end, this series seems unlikely to make anyone change their sympathies from Allen to Farrow or vice versa. However, it might push more than a few people into the don’t-want-to-hear-any-more camp.