Woody Allen: Accusations of abuse take spotlight in new documentary

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Director Woody Allen in a file photo.
Image Credit: Shutterstock

The controversy surrounding famed director Woody Allen has simmered under the surface of Hollywood for many years, and it once again bubbles up with the release of a new documentary series.

It’s one of the latest such project to address the alleged wrongs of celebrities and offer some sort of justice or explanation.

‘Allen v. Farrow’, by filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering and released on HBO, is about the years old accusations against Allen that claim he sexually abused Dylan Farrow, a girl he adopted with then wife Mia Farrow, in 1992.

The documentary release comes close on the heels of another explosive film ‘Framing Britney Spears’ that has led to widespread calls for justice for the pop singer. The film covered Spears’ meteoric rise to fame, her troubled life in the public eye and the contentious conservatorship that gives her father control over many parts of her life.

Some might wonder why Allen’s alleged abuse, which he has repeatedly denied, is still a talking point almost 30 years later.

While ‘Allen v. Farrow’ has been in the works for three years, it releases at a time when more people than ever are interested in true crime and documentaries, a type of storytelling that might have been considered staid some time ago. Amid the pandemic, the hunger for content has only grown as people stay indoors and find new modes of entertainment/distraction.

FILE - In this April 21, 2015 file photo, Mia Farrow attends the TIME 100 Gala in New York. Farrow took some Twitter heat Wednesday, July 29, for joining other angry social media posters and blasting out the business address of the dentist who killed the beloved lion Cecil in Zimbabwe. AP File
Mia Farrow attends the TIME 100 Gala in New York in 2015.
Image Credit: AP file

Combined with the recent #MeToo movement and the popularity of other documentaries that delve into claims of sexual violence — ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’, ‘Surviving R Kelly’ and ‘Leaving Neverland’ being some of them — people are curious; and people want answers.

Whether the documentary will provide those answers remains to be seen. Here’s a look back at the history of the case …

The family

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Mia Farrow, far right, appears with her children Ronan and Dylan in a photographed shared in ‘Allen v. Farrow.’
Image Credit: HBO

Woody Allen, a director best know for films such as ‘Manhattan’, ‘Annie’ and ‘Match Point’, began a relationship with ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ actress Mia Farrow in 1980. Before her 12-year relationship with Allen, Farrow had been married to singer Frank Sinatra and pianist André Previn.

She had adopted a number of children and had three biological sons with Previn, and one with Allen — Ronan Farrow (born Satchel Farrow). (Ronan Farrow is best known for his investigative reporting of sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein and has been one of Dylan Farrow’s most vociferous supporters.)

Among the children Farrow adopted were Korean-born Soon-yi Previn, Dylan Farrow and Moses Farrow.

The affair

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Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn at the Los Angeles Premiere of ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’.
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Allen went on to adopt Dylan and Moses as his own in 1991. But in a turn of events that shocked many at the time, the director — then in his late 50s — began an affair with 21-year-old Previn.

Farrow found out about the affair between her partner and adopted daughter when she discovered nude photographs of Previn in Allen’s apartment in January 1992.

The accusation

Dylan Farrow
Dylan Farrow
Image Credit: AP file

In August the same year, Farrow and Allen’s daughter Dylan accused the director of taking her to the attic of their house and molesting her. The documentary ‘Allen v. Farrow’ will reveal for the first time footage of a seven-year-old Dylan describing the alleged abuse.

As a grown up, Dylan has stuck to her account in interviews for Vanity Fair and the New York Times. She went on camera for the first time in 2018 to talk to Gayle King about the incident.

“I was taken to a small attic crawl space in my mother’s country house in Connecticut by my father. He instructed me to lay down on my stomach and play with my brother’s toy train that was set up. And he sat behind me in the doorway, and as I played with the toy train, I was sexually assaulted … As a 7-year-old I would say, I would have said he touched my private parts,” she said.

The defence

However, Allen vehemently denied this ever happened. The filmmaker has never been charged over the accusations.

“When this claim was first made more than 25 years ago, it was thoroughly investigated by both the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale-New Haven Hospital and New York State Child Welfare,” he said in a statement in 2018.

“They both did so for many months and independently concluded that no molestation had ever taken place. Instead, they found it likely a vulnerable child had been coached to tell the story by her angry mother during a contentious break-up,” Allen added.

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Director Woody Allen poses during a photocall for the film ‘Cafe Society’ out of competition, before the opening of the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 11, 2016.
Image Credit: Reuters

The 85-year-old filmmaker has pointed to volatile family relations, along with anger over his affair and marriage to Previn, as a reason why Farrow forced Dylan to make the claims against him.

“This is an unconscionable and gruesomely damaging manipulation of innocent children for vindictive and self-serving motives,” Allen had said in a 1990s.

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.

– Statement from Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn

Previn too has defended Allen and said Farrow had been a poor adoptive mother.

“The business of him molesting Dylan is so ridiculous that I won’t dignify it with a comment,” Previn told Newsweek in 1992.

“Mia was always very hot-tempered and given to rages which terrified all the kids. They can’t speak freely because they’re still dependent on her,” she added. “But they could really tell stories and I’m sure one day will.”

The son’s side

Another of Farrow’s adopted children did end up telling his own story. In 2018, Moses Farrow wrote a blog defending Allen’s innocence and describing Farrow’s behaviour around the time the alleged molestation took place.

“For months now, she had been drilling it into our heads like a mantra: Woody was “evil,” “a monster,” “the devil,” and Soon-Yi was “dead to us,” he wrote. “My mother was our only source of information about Woody — and she was extremely convincing.”

Talking about the attic and setting of the incident, he wrote: “It’s a precise and compelling narrative, but there’s a major problem: there was no electric train set in that attic. There was, in fact, no way for kids to play up there, even if we had wanted to.”

What happens now?

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Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn at Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2016.
Image Credit: AFP

Allen has never been formally charged or prosecuted for these allege crimes, and went on to have a long and successful movie career. However, ever since Mia, Dylan and Ronan Farrow’s campaigning against him, Allen has faced other consequences.

Amazon Prime Video terminated their contract with Allen and dropped his film ‘A Rainy Day in New York’. Hachette Book Group cancelled his autobiography ‘A Propos of Nothing’ after the Farrows’ and public complaints.

The documentary goes over the allegations once more, and also analyses Allen’s relationships with young women, other alleged inappropriate interactions with Dylan, and his and Farrow’s bitter custody battle. How the series will impact what is left of Allen’s career will have to be seen.

What is true is that Hollywood is not done lifting the veil on abuses in the industry.


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