There are, of course, two versions of the complex story that still binds Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, decades after their break-up.
Farrow’s is that Allen sexually assaulted their adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, when she was seven years old, with the little girl’s description of alleged abuse captured on video. Allen, who has strenuously denied the claim for almost 30 years, says Dylan was “coached” by her mother, a woman scorned.
In 1992, following a 13-year-relationship, the acrimonious break-up of a revered filmmaker and a Hollywood film star was headline gossip fodder. But it wasn’t the claim about Dylan that made it such a scandal, rather Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, another of Farrow’s adopted children from a previous relationship, uncovered when the actress found explicit pictures.
Allen was 56 at the time, Previn 21; he had known her since she was a child.
The filmmaker has never been charged with an offence and for a long time, neither the affair – which turned into a marriage, and the couple are still together – nor the allegation seemed to have any impact on his prolific career. But with the rise of the #MeToo movement, the accusation has come back into the fore. In 2019, Amazon cancelled a film deal with Allen and the following year, one publisher pulled the planned release of his memoir, Apropos Of Nothing. Many stars who have worked with the actor have denounced him.
Now, a four-part documentary series, Allen v Farrow, is airing in the US, soon to come to the UK. It is the first time Mia Farrow has ever spoken about the allegation on camera and contains new material including interviews with relatives, investigators, witnesses, and family friends.
“We felt it was a story that the public thought they knew, but they really did not,” Amy Ziering, who directed the series alongside her filmmaking partner Kirby Dick, tells Sky News. “The Woody Allen case was the most public case to ever look at a private alleged case of incest in our country’s history. And the way that our country interpreted it and reacted to it was incredibly seminal and formative to the way in which America to this day views incest cases, and more often than not sends children back to the homes of their abusers. So that’s why we thought this is important.”
Allen has, unsurprisingly, criticised the series, describing it as “a hatchet job” and saying the makers had been “collaborating” with the Farrows. It is fair to say it strongly favours Farrow. Allen does not participate – he says he was given “days to respond”; the documentary team say they gave him “ample time” and he never got back to them – but audio excerpts of Apropos Of Nothing are used.
Ziering and Dick say they went into the project with no “take”, but after years of working on the series, they claim it tells “the true story”.
Both Mia and Dylan Farrow were reluctant to take part at first, Ziering says. “Mia did not want to speak… In fact, this is the first time, even though we all thought we knew the story, this is the first time you’re ever seeing her talk on camera about this, ever.
“That’s how vigilant she was about protecting her privacy, protecting her children, not having this be played out in the public arena. She only finally agreed to it because her daughter asked her to.”
Dylan, who was equally hesitant at first, eventually realised the filmmakers were “interested in the truth and not spin” and thought her story could maybe help others, Ziering says.
“Mia heard that and said, ‘all right, I’ll speak’. But she was reluctant throughout and very, very fearful.”
Defending the viewpoint some may have that the documentary is one-sided, Dick says Allen’s story “is the story that’s out there”. Despite what people think they know, Mia Farrow has rarely spoken out publicly, he says.
Allen criticised the series after only one episode had aired, Dick says, “so that seemed like a very premature comment”.
Dick continues: “Actually, it was very important to have his voice in [the series] and we do have his voice in, through his book, Apropos Of Nothing. He read an audio book and so you hear his voice throughout the series talking about the past 30 years.
“This is an epic case… you hear him commenting through each stage of this case and in particular about the accusations of abuse. So you hear him again and again, you hear his perspective. It was very important for us to have that perspective.
“We didn’t come in having any kind of take on this. In fact, when we first started discussing this, I thought all the information was out. But as we started digging and going deeper, we found more and more information and we just followed that information. And what we present is everything that’s been corroborated, that’s backed up by court documents, backed up by multiple testimonies.”
When it comes to reporting on those accused of criminal offences, in most cases, certainly in the UK, the media will wait until that person has been charged before naming them. But in light of the #MeToo movement and the justice brought to the victims of Harvey Weinstein following the work of investigative journalists – including that, in another complicated twist, of Ronan Farrow, the biological former couple’s biological son and Dylan’s younger brother, who has publicly supported his mother and sister – more women are coming forward to make allegations of abuse against high-profile men, and their claims are being reported.
Allen could sue. “Do I really want to be tabloid fodder for two years and go to court? And do I really care?” he told the Guardian in May 2020. I ask what is it about the allegation against Allen that crosses the threshold for making a documentary series such as this.
“I think the threshold is corroboration,” says Dick. “Everything that we put into the film, we’ve corroborated, it’s been fact-checked through multiple teams. It’s gone through multiple teams of attorneys and we’re very, very confident.”
Details of Allen and Farrow’s break-up and the claims had played out in public thanks to a well-publicised custody battle, eventually won by Farrow, over Dylan, Ronan (known then as Satchel) and Moses Farrow – another child adopted by Farrow and Allen, who in recent years has spoken out in support of Allen.
As a child, Dylan was interviewed by state agencies and investigators found her credible, the documentary series claims. Investigators believe there was enough evidence to proceed with a criminal case, says Dick, but it never happened. While the allegation was about one incident of alleged abuse, the series claims Allen was “obsessed” with Dylan.
“There were multiple witnesses to Woody Allen having an obsession with Dylan and behaving inappropriately,” says Dick.
Halfway through the series, the video tape of Dylan is included. After the episode aired in the US, she posted a statement on social media, saying the decision to let the tape be “viewed now publicly in this way has not been easy”.
Ziering says Dylan offered the tape to the filmmakers for background research at first.
“Then she came to us and said, ‘I’ve thought about it and if you think this could help other people, other children out there who are suffering, other parents who might not know what a child’s language when they speak about this looks like… [help] educators, lawmakers, finally really understand what incest is like, not only for the person experiencing it, but how that person might articulate it…’ She thought, well, if that can help others, then you can use it.”
Critics say the tape is evidence not of Allen’s guilt but that Farrow made up the claim and coached her daughter; in the era of smartphones and Instagram, filming a child in this way may not seem that odd, but it was probably highly unusual in the early ’90s. But then, so was much of Allen’s behaviour. A press conference announcing his relationship with Previn is featured in the series, something you cannot imagine many A-listers rushing to do nowadays. Ziering describes it as “highly anomalous, and very clever and shrewd”, because it allowed him to “reframe” the story.
The series also focuses on Allen’s films, such as Manhattan and Annie Hall, and the storylines which often focused on relationships between young women and much older men.
“We wanted to show the ways that not only his films, but many, many Hollywood films normalised us to certain inappropriate behaviour and inappropriate interactions,” says Ziering. “So in that way, it allowed the narrative that we accepted about this case to be believed more readily, because we had already been prepared by accepting all these cultural images of these questionable power dynamics in relationships as normal, so that when they appear in more private lives we are less likely to censure them.”
When telling stories about relationships such as these “you have to examine the power dynamics”, adds Dick. “You have to examine the complications and not just normalise it and not just pretend that there aren’t emotional and psychological issues and risks for the person who has less power. That’s one of the things I think if you look at Woody Allen’s films, he doesn’t do that. In fact, he does the opposite in many ways – just saying, there’s nothing wrong with this kind of relationship. I think it’s incumbent on artists when they do examine these kind of things that they really dive into it and really do a thorough examination. And we don’t feel that he really did that in his films.”
In response to the series, the full statement released on behalf of Allen and Previn after the first episode aired in the US, said: “These documentarians had no interest in the truth. Instead, they spent years surreptitiously collaborating with the Farrows and their enablers to put together a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods. Woody and Soon-Yi were approached less than two months ago and given only a matter of days ‘to respond.’ Of course, they declined to do so.
“As has been known for decades, these allegations are categorically false. Multiple agencies investigated them at the time and found that, whatever Dylan Farrow may have been led to believe, absolutely no abuse had ever taken place. It is sadly unsurprising that the network to air this is HBO – which has a standing production deal and business relationship with Ronan Farrow. While this shoddy hit piece may gain attention, it does not change the facts.”
But both Ziering and Kirby say they think the series will change many people’s opinions on the story.
“I think it [would be] very hard for anyone for their take not to change once you see the wealth of evidence that supports Dylan’s claims,” says Kirby. “It’s overwhelming.”
Sky News has contacted representatives for Allen for comment.
Allen v Farrow premiers on Sky Documentaries and NOW TV on Monday 15 March at 9pm. It will also be available on demand and on NOW TV