TW: This article contains details of rape and sexual assault of a minor

“There’s so much misinformation. There’s so much obfuscation and so many lies. I’ve been subjected to every kind of doubt, every kind of scrutiny and every kind of humiliation over this. In the last 20 years, he was able to run amok, while I was growing up. And I was coping with this… through sleepless nights and panic attacks because of one man. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to set the record straight. because no matter what you think you know, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

– Dylan Farrow

The four-part HBO documentary is about the child sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen, who sexually molested his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, at the age of seven years old. It includes a criminal investigation, civil suit, a custody battle, and coverage of media tabloids that followed this case back in 1992. It is a disturbing and horrifying documentary as Dylan, daughter of actress Mia Farrow, speaks about her childhood abuse at the hands of her adoptive father. The documentary spans four decades of Allen’s commitment to dispute Farrow’s accusations against him and by shifting the narrative that Mia is a neglectful and abusive mother to her seven children. 

Breaking down the episodes

Episode 01: The accusations of sexual abuse against Woody Allen

Image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films.

“Over the years, you all know that I’ve been reluctant to speak with the press and have assiduously avoided publicity. But because of all the rumors and innuendos, I feel that I have to make a statement. First, I have greatly saddened that sources close to Mia Farrow have released to the public allegations instigated by her of child abuse on my part.”

– Woody Allen at the press conference on August 18, 1992.

The first episode explores the sexual allegations against Woody Allen and his inappropriate behavior with his daughter. Dylan explains the things that he made her do, always separating her from her mom and family, and always feeling threatened by him. She shows a family album with some missing pieces in it. These spaces had been previously occupied by Allen. She talks about the guilt that made her not confident enough to talk about what happened in the past and how she wishes she had spoken about it much sooner. Then, Dylan talks about her childhood and Allen being a huge part of it. She talks about feeling loved and cherished by him, but also not understanding how to differentiate the good times and bad times with him, and that she was afraid of him even though she loved him. 

In addition to Dylan’s side of the story, the documentary also focuses on Mia’s relationship with Allen. She expresses guilt and shame for letting him be part of her big family. Mia talks about how they met and started a relationship, even though he was reluctant about it. When Mia suggested adoption, Allen had said that he wanted nothing to do with the child, financially or otherwise, unless Mia adopted a ‘a blonde girl.’ Once Mia found Dylan, she wanted Allen to love her, and she was relieved when he was infatuated with Dylan. From then on, Allen became a father to Dylan, playing with her on the swings, spending as much time together, and taking her to the theatre. When Mia was pregnant with Ronan Farrow, Allen was disappointed. Allen started to snatch Dylan away from Mia and accused her of not spending enough time with Dylan and her other kids. 

Dylan talks about some of the things that she remembers from her childhood. These recollections by Dylan are difficult to listen to and harrowing as Allen abused the little girl. Instances of Allen and Dylan wearing underwear and cuddling intimately, him teaching her how to suck his thumb, and Allen kneeling in front of her and putting his head in her lap were caught by Mia and other family friends. In another instance, while the kids were at the beach, Allen’s hand went down between Dylan’s buttocks lingered there, suggestively. 

Allen’s intense “affection” for Dylan went on for years and the final blow hit when Mia found out that he was having an affair with her other adoptive daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, whom Allen had taken naked polaroid photos of her when she was in college. The next episode takes a deeper look at Allen grooming young Soon-Yi and their relationship. 

Episode 02: Grooming Soon-Yi, Allen’s filmography, and Dylan’s allegations

Image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films.

The first half of the second episode deals with Mia’s career, her marriage to Andre Previn, and her experience with polio and adopting Soon-Yi. Mia explains that she had a hard time bonding with Soon-Yi because she had a difficult childhood in South Korea. But despite that, Mia took every effort to make it work and maintained a positive relationship with her. Through voice interviews, the audience gets an insight into Soon-Yi’s relationships with her other siblings and how she was inexperienced when it came to dating boys. 

Also, it explores Allen’s career and how the allegations were taken in the context of his films. His 1979 film Manhattan was inspired by his relationship with a 17-year-old girl, which the film also explores as something real between two adults. This relationship between Allen and the young girl went on until she was 23-years-old. During the film, Allen’s character says that they cannot be in love with each other and uses the female character’s desire to make her predation more relevant. Critics and reporters who are being interviewed in the documentary take note of how his relationships have a power dynamic and grooms the audience. They note the age gaps and predatory behavior regardless of two consenting adults, he tries to make the audience attune to these relationships. 

The second half of the documentary series discusses Soon-Yi and Allen’s relationship and the uncertainty of how long Allen had groomed her. According to Mia, she believes that Allen had been grooming her since high school after asking the doormen and the maid. According to the maid, she would find used condoms and change the sheets after Soon-Yi left. All of these claims were denied by Allen as he claims that their relationship started when Soon-Yi was in college. Allen spent a lot of time grooming her by taking her to basketball games, giving her a part in a movie and convincing her that she could be a model, and knowing that she was the only person in the family that did not date or had a boyfriend. Through voice excerpts from Allen’s biography, he explains that his relationship with Soon-Yi started to grow more when he realized that they had so many things in common. It was seven months after Soon-Yi graduated high school that Mia found the naked photos of her daughter at Allen’s apartment. 

In the summer of ‘92, Mia takes her children to the country for a needed break. During that time, Allen was allowed to visit them once a week and on this particular day, he arrived at the house after Mia and her friends left their kids with the babysitters. Mia had told her babysitter to not leave Allen and Dylan alone and to keep a close eye on them. After some time, Dylan goes missing and they scour the house to locate her but they could not find her anywhere. According to the babysitter, they could not find Dylan for roughly 20 minutes. After Mia comes back to the house, Dylan comes up to her and she notices that her daughter does not have any underpants on. The next day, Mia’s friend calls her to inform her about a disturbing sight that her babysitter had seen between Allen and Dylan. According to her friend’s babysitter, Dylan was sitting on the couch and Allen kneeling on the floor, with his head buried in her lap. Horrified at this discovery, Mia was desperate to find the truth about what happened and keep a log of what Dylan was talking about, so she recorded everything on her video camera. In the footage, Mia asked questions about Allen and the details of his abuse. Dylan explains that Allen had taken her into the attic and sexually assaulted her. For two days, Mia had videotaped Dylan whenever she talked about being abused by Allen. 

Episode 03: Media twisting the narrative and the custody trial

Image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films.

The third episode discusses how Allen used the media to form a negative image of Mia as an unfit mother and authorities launching two investigations in two different jurisdictions. For the documentary, the producers were able to obtain a lot of the documentation, police files, additional evidence, and private audio and video recordings of the court case. What follows is a series of manipulation and internal workings of trying to discredit Dylan’s accusations by Allen and his team.

Through narrative, it explains that Dylan’s paediatrician submitted a report on suspected sexual abuse and a series of legal actions were initiated in two states. In New York, the City Child Administrative Welfare opened an investigation. While in Connecticut, where the alleged crime had occurred, the state police opened a criminal investigation which was overseen by the state prosecutor, Frank Maco. 

From that point on, Allen worked to sabotage the investigation by making a public statement and denied the allegations against him. After confessing his love for Soon-Yi, the media twisted the narrative and claimed that Mia had concocted the abuse because she was jealous of his relationship with her daughter. Using his PR machine and powerful attorneys, they set up interviews for Allen as he used his power and influence to tell his side of the story. At an interview with 60 Minutes, he continues to claim that Mia had coached Dylan to tell the story of her being abused by him. He further claims that she is using her friends to lie about everything and that none of it is true. During that time, Mia refused to discuss the investigations and chose to focus on her children and to keep them safe. Mia’s friends and family disputed Allen’s claims by telling the press that she is not an unfit mother and Allen’s allegations were untrue. It is revealed that Allen had hired multiple private investigators to uncover information about Mia’s family and the Connecticut State detectives that were hired to the case. 

Maco instructed a member of the State Police to continue the investigation and have Dylan evaluated. He wanted to know whether she could take the stand without further traumatizing her, so he assigned Yale Child Sexual Abuse Clinic to do the examination. They were assigned to examine if there were any impediments as to Dylan’s ability to perceive, recall, and relay. The social workers assigned to the examination interviewed Dylan nine times throughout three months. Dylan recalled that she had to repeat the story of her being abused by her over and over again, which she hated. After seven months, Maco received a call that the institution made a decision regarding Dylan’s examination and concluded that she was unreliable, untrustworthy and that Mia had taken some part in all of this. The report stated that there were inconsistencies in Dylan’s statements and she had difficulties distinguishing fantasy from reality. It also stated that Dylan’s accusations were likely enforced by Mia who was upset over Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi. In an unusual twist, the institution had informed Mia and Allen about the examination and conducted a press conference with Allen, the accused, and allowed him to announce the results without informing Maco, who had assigned them the examination. 

Mia’s lawyers were concerned about the examination completed by the Yale Child Sexual Abuse Clinic, so they hired a forensic psychiatrist to read through the reports. The forensic psychologist reveals that the institution should not have interviewed Dylan nine times because that would have traumatized her even more, and she should have been interviewed the least amount of times. Dylan explains that she felt doubt about being asked the same questions over and over again. She felt that she was being treated like she was lying. The social workers claimed that Dylan fantasized and used childish words to describe the incidents. The forensic psychiatrist explains that Dylan had repeatedly given the same answer every single time and that there were consistencies in the interviews. A child abuse expert further supports Dylan’s stories that she was very consistent about where Allen touched her, where it occurred and what he touched her with, and also states that she knows the core elements of the sexual assault. At the end of the examination, the Yale Child Sexual Abuse Clinic had destroyed all the evidence and notes regarding Dylan’s case. 

The investigation by the Child Welfare Administration was assigned to Sheryl Harden. After reading the allegations, she assigned the case to a caseworker, Paul Wiliams. Williams had interviewed Dylan and found that her story was credible. In Williams’ notes, he claims that there was enough evidence to open a criminal investigation against Allen, but because of powerful people, and in a high profile case like this, they are sometimes unable to do so. When Williams wanted to work for the best of Dylan and reveal the truth, the City of New York was fired. It was claimed that somebody who had power and influence infiltrated the investigation. According to Williams’ notes, a social worker who interviewed Dylan, claims that she believed that Dylan was credible. 

After Allen learned that he was being investigated for child sex abuse, Allen filed a lawsuit against Mia for the sole custody of Dylan, Moses and Ronan. The lawsuit claimed that Mia was an unfit mother and brainwashed her children. At the custody hearing, Allen pushed the narrative that Mia was seeking vengeance against him. The attorneys asked Allen whether he was ever alone with her and he denied them. These claims were contradicted by three witnesses who were supervising the children. The video footage where Dylan talked about the abuse was presented in court as evidence, and Mia testified that she tapes Dylan whenever she talked about it. Allen claims that Mia was pushing Dylan to talk about the molestations. These claims were clarified and denied by experts who state that Dylan is reenacting what happened to them. Another expert states that Mia was very careful with her questions and asked Dylan questions that started with, “what, when, who, and how,” which does not suggest that she was concocting these stories. After the end of the custody trial, the judge stated that Allen did not demonstrate parenting skills that would qualify him to have the sole custody of the three children. 

The last few minutes of the episode explores whether Dylan would be a suitable first witness for state prosecutor, Maco. He asks whether she is fit enough to go on the stand and repeat the incidents in front of the court. 

Episode 04: #MeToo encourages Dylan to speak out

Image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films.

“This decision addresses the certain sexual assault allegations surrounding events in Bridgewater, Connecticut on August 4th, 1992, involving Mr. Woody Allen. I consider the state police investigation to be thorough and complete, and I commend the investigator for their efforts performed in an atmosphere that was anything but conducive to a smooth-running investigation. As to the allegations contained in the submitted arrest warrant application, I find that probable cause exists. Yet despite meeting that standard, and because of the risk of exposing a child complainant to the rigors, uncertainties, and possible traumatization of such actions, accordingly, I am announcing my decision not to initiate a prosecution.”

– Frank Maco, on September 24, 1993 

In this final episode, Maco talks about whether a young Dylan was fit enough to take the stand and be asked questions about the abuse. Before he decided to not prosecute Allen for the sexual assault allegations, Maco had asked questions to Dylan, in a safe environment, and she was unresponsive. Therefore, he and other people decided to not go ahead with the case because if they did, it would traumatize young Dylan even more. Also, Dylan explains the difficulties that she had growing up and dating as a teenager, and how her abuse affected it. She talked about finally taking a stand and speaking out about what happened in an open letter that addressed Allen’s alleged abuse and her childhood. 

After the custody trial and Maco’s decision, Mia and her family moved to their country house to get away from the chaos in the city. At home, Dylan explains that she was in so much guilt for putting a rift between her family and blamed herself for what happened. Nothing was the same anymore. Growing up, Dylan was riddled with anxiety, she had signs of depression and often to keep to herself. The situation with Allen was mostly kept under the rugs and that was a topic that was never brought up in that house. Dylan was mostly alone and isolated from it all, and her siblings never asked about what happened. Furthermore, Dylan talked about how she never talked about it with her mom and her family, friends and that hindered a lot of her relationships with men. Even the thought of exploring a relationship had given her anxiety, so she never let it get on any further. 

In Allen’s world, his career thrived. He was still appearing on talk shows and making movies, his actors and close friends defending him. When asked whether the allegations against Allen had changed people’s perception of him, he replied with a humorous answer, people had always hated him and that they thought that he was a terrible little cockroach (his words, not mine), so his actions had confirmed it. In 1997, a 62-year old Allen and 27-year old Soon-Yi got married. Also, Allen worked to discredit Mia and Dylan. He tried to convince his son, Ronan, that he would pay for his college tuition if Ronan publicly denounced his mother and sister. 

Allen’s colleagues and actors would praise him for his unforgettable and amazing female characters. Celebrities like Scarlet Johansson, Javier Barden, Penelope Cruz, and Diane Keaton have called Allen a ‘genius’ and worked with him despite the allegations of sexual abuse. During the 2014 Golden Globes Awards, Allen was being rewarded for his outstanding filmmaking, and Dylan who was unaware of the event tuned in when her friends started to message her about it. After she understood what was happening, she had a panic attack. After Ronan tweeted about the event, Dylan got more confidence to write about what happened during her childhood. Several news publications and reporters refused to publish Dylan’s essay even though it checked out. When Dylan’s essay was published, so many people from her life gave her support and shared their stories of abuse. But both Dylan and Mia were also accused of abuse, lying, and deception.

Once again, after the essay was published, Allen’s PR team worked to change the narrative and paint Mia as a vindictive and neglectful mother who abuses her children. This team also worked to sabotage people’s careers and advised news reporters to run the story the way that they want in the means of a transactional business. 

When Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse allegations were reported by Ronan, it encouraged Dylan to speak out once again and speak about her truth. Part of the reason why #MeToo and TimesUp movements became important is because of survivors of abuse like Dylan and so many others. 

An interesting part of the documentary is when Maco and Dylan meet and talk about the decision that was made in 1993 for the first time since then. Dylan talked about feeling guilty and partially blaming herself for not being able to take the stand and testify. Maco reassures her that he made the right decision to not go ahead with the investigation because it was the right thing to do for Dylan. He also reassures her that she should not blame herself for not being strong enough at that time and that it was not her fault at all.

Later, Dylan writes another essay questioning why the #MeToo movement had not spared Allen like the other men that were being accused of sexual abuse. The essay questions why despite the renewed allegations against her adopted father, no one believes her. Dylan mentions that she is tired of not being believed and being told that she is wrong and her experience does not matter. Because of her truth, celebrities that worked with Allen finally spoke out and apologized and refused to work with him.

Was the documentary one-sided?

An article written by Hadley Freeman addresses how the documentary only focuses on Mia and Dylan’s side of the story and completely omits Allen’s perspective. The article mentions Mia’s three dead children, but the documentary cannot decide whether Soon-Yi is the victim of an evil seductress. It also notes the many problems of having a one-sided documentary, completely focusing on the victim and her story and not including Allen in the documentary. Freeman complains that the documentary accuses Allen as a terrifyingly powerful man but was contradicted when he was denied custody for Ronan, Moses, and Dylan. 

At the end of the documentary, the article notes that Allen denied the allegations and refused to give a statement or take part in the documentary. His side of the story was explained through his book. After decades of having a platform and a voice to write movies, why is it still important for abusive men like Allen to share his side of the story? It is not. For someone like Allen, who was able to take part in interviews, lie to the public about what he had done, there is no need for his perspective to be shared. This documentary was solely about Dylan finally speaking out about her trauma and that is what matters. 

Celebrities and Hollywood culture

Throughout the documentary, celebrities, writers, and reporters talked about how much Allen’s movies meant to them. They talked about how much his movies connected with them from a very young age and continued to praise his brilliant films. The way he portrayed New York and wrote about relationships, love, and women, were some of the things that were considered to be a “genius” in their terms. Celebrities wanted to work with them because it guaranteed them critical acclaim and an Oscar or Golden Globe. 

It is baffling that it took his last movie or even Dylan’s letter for people to realize that Allen is an abuser. These allegations have been made public for years, but people turned the other way because they could not believe that someone as powerful and a “genius” like Allen could have done something of this sort to his adoptive daughter. 

There is a culture of believing powerful and rich people over minorities, and in this case, the adopted daughter who was abused by Allen for many years. Instantly, people believe the accused as though these are their family members or friends with whom they have a connection. Unfortunately, this culture of believing the accused and not the survivor is still prevalent in Hollywood as well as everywhere else in the world.

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