‘Allen v. Farrow’ Is a Horrifying Indictment of Woody Allen
The HBO docuseries details allegations of grooming and child sexual abuse against Woody Allen, and features interviews with Dylan Farrow, Mia Farrow, and more. (Warning: Spoilers)
Warning: Graphic descriptions of alleged child sexual abuse.
As Judge Elliott Wilk, who presided over the shocking custody case between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen in New York State Supreme Court concluded, “We will probably never know what occurred on August 4, 1992.” But the new four-part documentary series Allen v. Farrow makes a thoroughly convincing argument that Allen indeed molested his 7-year-old daughter, Dylan Farrow, that fateful day in their Connecticut home.
Premiering Feb. 21 on HBO, the shot-in-secret series took three years to make, and comes from the directorial team of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who most recently helmed On the Record, a powerful documentary highlighting the brave women—Drew Dixon, Sil Lai Abrams, Sheri Sher, and others—who came forward with allegations of abuse against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Seven years ago, I reported on the findings of the custody case between Farrow and Allen, researching all the documents I could find, and conducted an awkward interview with Allen during the press tour for his film Magic in the Moonlight in which he dodged questions about the Farrow allegations until his publicist threatened to end the interview.
But what Dick, Ziering, and their producing partner Amy Herdy have accomplished here is far more exhaustive, featuring internal documents as well as interviews with Dylan, Mia, and Ronan Farrow, members of the Previn clan, a number of family friends, officials involved in the cases, and childcare experts, all of whom echo the other portion of Judge Wilk’s ruling, “That Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.”
According to then-partner Mia Farrow, it was Allen who’d suggested the family adopt a cute blond girl—and so Farrow adopted baby Dylan in 1985. Almost immediately, Allen is said to have developed an obsession with Dylan. She recalls him constantly “hovering” around her, explaining, “I was always in his clutches. He was always hunting me.” Casey Pascal, a close family friend, would bring her kids over but “there was no point” because Allen would always go off with her; Priscilla Gilman, Dylan’s friend at the time, remembers how Allen “followed Dylan wherever she went,” and would often be caught standing nearby silently watching her. “He would come, and she would run away from the door, and say, ‘Hide me! Hide me! At first, I thought it was like a game, but then I realized she actually sensed this kind of smothering energy from him,” Gilman says in the film.
Around this time, Dylan would start locking herself in bathrooms. Her family describes how a once-effervescent and talkative girl became incredibly withdrawn, resembling “a dead animal.”
Allen’s behavior toward Dylan became increasingly affectionate and, Mia and others maintain, began crossing the line into creepy, as Allen would allegedly cuddle with Farrow in bed in their underwear. “I remember sitting on the edge of his bed. The light in the room, the satin sheets,” says Dylan. “I have memories of getting into bed with him. He was in his underwear, and I’m in my underwear cuddling. I remember his breath on me. He would just wrap his body around me very intimately.”
“The first time that I saw it, I was coming into the room and he was getting out of the bed, and so I saw that he was only wearing underwear,” adds Gilman. “And I just kind of turned around and walked the other way, because I didn’t want him to know that I had seen it.”
Mia Farrow recounts how Allen would “kneel in front of [Dylan] or sit next to her and put his face in her lap, which I caught a couple of times, and I didn’t think it was right.” Her sister Tisa Farrow offers even more damning testimony, revealing that during a visit to their Connecticut country home in the summer, as the young kids were running around naked by the beach, “Mia handed Woody a thing of sunscreen to put on, and he was rubbing Dylan’s back… His hand went down between her buttocks and kind of lingered there and suggestively—I have to say suggestively, because that’s what it was—went between her buttocks’ cheeks with his finger and then came back. And Mia saw it too and snatched the sunscreen away.”
Allen also apparently had a habit of having Dylan suck on his thumb. “I remember sitting on the steps with him in the country house. There was nobody else around, and he was directing me on how to suck his thumb—telling me what to do with my tongue, and I think that lasted a while. It felt like a long time,” Dylan says in the film. “I saw her sucking his thumb, which was really, really weird. He said, this helps her, this calms her down,” adds Priscilla.
We are shown home video footage of young Dylan, in a diaper, with her hand resting on the inside of Allen’s thigh.
Due to all the strange behavior, Mia says she eventually confronted Allen about it, and he became enraged. Still, Mia couldn’t believe that the man she loved, her life partner and collaborator, was a pedophile. So, she had Allen see a clinical psychologist concerning his behavior with Dylan, who subsequently determined that Allen was being “inappropriately intense” with Dylan, but that it “wasn’t sexual.” In light of that, Mia said she let Allen formally adopt Dylan and Moses, a young boy Mia had adopted from Korea, since she felt he was her “life’s partner.”
Allen v. Farrow makes the case that Allen has a predilection for young women. In addition to clips of his films, often pairing older men with barely of-age women, the docuseries features Christina Englehardt, the supposed inspiration for Mariel Hemingway’s character in Manhattan, who met Allen when she was 16, and says the two became romantic when she turned 17 (“It’s taken a toll on how I’ve been in relationships,” she maintains of Allen). There are the Woody Allen Papers at Princeton University—a comprehensive archive of letters, scripts, and papers by Allen, that journalist Richard Morgan examined for The Washington Post. “The thing that kept on showing up was this sort of focus he had on very young women,” he reveals.
And then there is the matter of Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi. When Mia famously found a stack of nude Polaroid pictures of Soon-Yi—then a college freshman—on Allen’s nightstand, the family was thrown into chaos, with all the children siding against Allen. “My opinion of him changed completely. He went from a father figure to a person who is a predator who we have to keep out of the house and protect ourselves from,” attests Fletcher Previn, Mia’s child from a previous marriage who was partially raised by Allen.
The film intimates that Allen “groomed” Soon-Yi over a period of years, and that his sexual interest in her may have actually began when she was in high school, providing the following carefully worded text:
Allen claims his relationship with Soon-Yi began after her first semester of college in December 1991. Court testimony suggests their relationship may have begun much earlier. Both Allen’s doorman and the building manager testified in court to having seen Soon-Yi visit Allen many times during her senior year of high school and first year of college. Allen’s housekeeper testified she found what she believed to be semen stains on the sheets and condom wrappers in the wastebasket after Soon-Yi’s visits, while Soon-Yi was still in high school. Seven months after Soon-Yi graduated high school, Mia discovered explicit photos of her in Allen’s apartment.
“I remember my mom told me and Ronan, ‘Daddy took naked pictures of Soon-Yi.’ And that was sort of the first instance where I thought, ‘Oh… it’s not just me,’” says Dylan.
Still, Dylan claims that she could not yet bring herself to come forward about Allen’s uncomfortable behavior toward her—both because she still felt it was the way fathers treated their daughters, and that she feared his wrath.
“At one point, we were all sitting at the dinner table and we were eating spaghetti. And I thought I was being funny by calling him ‘Woody’ instead of ‘Daddy.’ And he was getting progressively more agitated by it,” Dylan remembers. “And he grabs me by the back of my neck and shoves my face down into my plate of hot spaghetti, and that was sort of when I realized that that’s what happens if I say no. Doing what he says is the only way to protect myself.”
Then came the alleged incident on Aug. 4, 1992, which Dylan says changed everything.
That day was a rather busy one at the Farrow-Allen home in Connecticut. Casey Pascal’s children were over, along with their babysitter, Allison Stickland; Mia’s babysitter, Kristi Groteke, was around to watch over her flock; and Sophie Berge, Dylan and Ronan’s French tutor, was also there. Not long after Mia and Casey went off to the store, Berge says that Allen arrived. But then, according to Berge and Groteke, Allen and Dylan went missing for “about 20 minutes.” When Mia returns, she notices that Dylan isn’t wearing any underwear.
The next morning, Mia received a disturbing call from Pascal. “I called Mia and said, ‘Allison said that she saw Dylan sitting on the couch with Woody kneeling on the floor with his head buried in her lap. And she said that she felt that she had walked in on a very adult situation, and she realized that it was a child—it was a child she was seeing. And she was horrified to the core. She said Dylan was staring off into space, and Woody’s face was in her lap,” Pascal says in the film.
An alarmed Mia asked Dylan if that had happened, and she said yes. Then, since Dylan’s therapist was away for the summer, Mia decided to make a video of 7-year-old Dylan discussing what she says had happened with Allen. Clips from the grainy home video, dated Aug. 5, 1992, are shown in Allen v. Farrow, and they are incredibly upsetting. In the video, Mia can be heard asking Dylan what happened that day, and she replies, “We went into your room, and we went into the attic. Then he started telling me weird things. Then secret he went into the attic [inaudible] went behind me and touched my privates.” When Mia asks where Allen touched her, she points to her vaginal area. “Well, when I was in the attic, he said, ‘Do not move. I have to do this.’ But I wiggled my bum, to see what he was doing, he said, ‘Don’t move, I have to do this! So if you stay still, then um… we can go to Paris,” Dylan remarks later on in the video.
“We were in the TV room, and he reached behind me and he touched my butt. And then he told me to come up to the attic with him,” recalls a present-day Dylan in the film. “I remember laying there on my stomach and my back was to him, so I couldn’t see what was going on. I felt trapped. He was saying things like, ‘We’re gonna go to Paris together. You’re gonna be in all my movies.’ Then he sexually assaulted me. And I remember just focusing on my brother’s train set. And then… he just stopped. He was done. And we just went downstairs.”
Mia brought Dylan to their pediatrician the following day, and Dylan told him what had happened. The doctor then, unbeknownst to Mia, reported it to the police. Shortly thereafter, both the NYC Child Welfare Administration and the Connecticut State Police opened investigations into the alleged child sexual assault at the hands of Allen.
Episodes of Allen v. Farrow end with the text, “Woody Allen denies ever having been violent or sexually abusive with Dylan. He also denies ever having been sexually inappropriate with any teenaged girl.”
Following the news of the investigations into his alleged child sexual abuse, Allen decides to hold a packed press conference at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, where he declares his love for Soon-Yi and argues that Farrow concocted the Dylan abuse story to get back at him for it. Then, Allen unleashed a press blitz, appearing on 60 Minutes and the covers of Time, Newsweek, and People magazines, to hammer home his side of the story and drown out Dylan and Mia’s. And the press were all too ready to side with the filmmaker over Mia, who fought to keep the matter private for the safety of her children. Allen is also accused of having a team of private investigators trail the Farrow clan—scaring the kids—in search of any possible dirt that would help their case.
The few journalists who weren’t complicit in Allen’s PR campaign were women, including Maureen Orth of Vanity Fair, whose piece detailing the Farrows’ side didn’t make the cover of the magazine, though she did find out that Allen had refused to submit to Connecticut State Police’s polygraph test, and instead opted for a private polygraph by a hired hand. Meanwhile, a news report at the time by Rosanna Scotto of local Fox 5 NY alleges, “Here at the Episcopal School on Manhattan’s East Side, sources tell us exclusively that Woody Allen was so obsessed with Dylan, who was then 3 years old, that parents and teachers began talking about how Allen would sit in the doorway, positioned, to watch Dylan in the classroom.”
Allen v. Farrow also contains a series of taped phone calls (by Mia and Allen) between Mia and Allen, since the two were taping each other’s calls during this period. In one eye-opening exchange, Mia pleads with Allen to tell her what happened the day of Aug. 4. “If I have a shred of belief left in you, then help me now. Tell me where you were for those 20 minutes,” she asks, her voice cracking in distress. “All the details when the time comes…” replies Allen, rather ominously.
When Mia presses again and again as to why he can’t just tell her where he was, he coolly repeats it: “All the details when the time comes, and the truth will come out.”
Over the years, Allen’s defenders have often cited the report by the Yale New Haven Child Abuse Sex Clinic, which was commissioned by Connecticut state prosecutor Frank Maco. The team overseeing Dylan’s case was led by John Leventhal, who was joined by social workers Julia Hamilton and Jennifer Sawyer. The New Haven report ultimately contended there were “inconsistencies” in Dylan’s story; that she had “difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality”; and that the allegations “were likely reinforced and encouraged by her mother who was enraged with Mr. Allen.” Without informing Maco, the team notified Farrow and Allen of the results, which allowed Allen to then hold a rather tasteless victory-lap press conference outside of the New Haven hospital.
In Allen v. Farrow, a number of childcare professionals—from child psychologists to case workers—break down the New Haven report, and find a number of perceived oddities, including the fact that Hamilton and Sawyer interviewed Dylan a staggering nine times over the course of three months—unheard of for an alleged victim of child sexual abuse. “The more I was asked the same question over and over, the more I started to wonder: What do they want from me?” says Dylan in the film. “And feeling like the more I said the same thing, it was the wrong answer. Like, I was being treated like I was lying.”
The New Haven report also reasoned that Dylan was “delusional” because she would occasionally refer to “the magical hour,” a phrase she’d commonly heard on film sets, and called mannequins “dead heads,” which both seemed like reasonable descriptions for a 7-year-old. Furthermore, in another head-scratcher, Hamilton and Sawyer decided to destroy all of their contemporaneous notes.
As for the NYC Child Welfare Administration, investigator Sheryl Harden assigned the case to Paul Williams, a star employee who’d been awarded “Caseworker of the Year” by the City of New York. Williams found Dylan to be credible, and per his contemporaneous notes—which were obtained by the filmmakers—concluded that there was sufficient evidence to open up a case of child sexual abuse against Woody Allen, and included an exchange with Sawyer where she told Williams that she “believes Dylan.” But then Williams was mysteriously fired for “insubordination,” causing the case to die. When Williams’ firing was contested, a judge determined that Williams shouldn’t have been fired, reinstated him, and awarded him backpay.
“In the end, the result was that people with power were able to get the case removed,” Gloria Steinem, who supported Williams’ case, says in the film. “It just seemed to me, like everything I could glean as a reporter, to be a case of great injustice.”
Harden, who appears in Allen v. Farrow, was so disgusted with the process that she quit the NYC Child Welfare Administration about a year after the Dylan case.
Just when it looked as though Allen might get away scot-free, the show alleges that his vindictiveness took hold and he decided to sue Farrow for custody of their children. The child-custody trial in New York State Supreme Court dealt several blows to Allen’s credibility, as Allen claimed he was never alone with Dylan on Aug. 4—testimony that was contradicted by babysitters Groteke and Stickland, as well as French tutor Sophie Berge. Stickland testified that “Dylan was sitting upright on the couch and Woody was kneeling directly in front of her with his face in Dylan’s lap… His face was very close to her private area.”
Mia’s videos of Dylan discussing Allen’s alleged abuse were entered into evidence in the trial, while Judge Wilk poured cold water on the New Haven report, saying, “The unavailability of the notes, together with their unwillingness to testify at this trial except through the deposition of Dr. Leventhal, compromised my ability to scrutinize their findings and resulted in a report which was sanitized and, therefore, less credible.” Judge Wilk ruled that Farrow was “a caring and loving mother”; that there was “no credible evidence to support Mr. Allen’s contention that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan”; and that “Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her… It is unclear whether Mr. Allen will ever develop the insight and judgment necessary for him to relate to Dylan appropriately.” Allen was ordered to pay Farrow’s $1 million in legal fees, and to only be allowed to meet with Dylan during supervised visits.
The Connecticut State Police investigation, meanwhile, discovered that Allen was inconsistent about whether he’d ever been in the attic with Dylan, and three childcare specialists from separate agencies found that Dylan’s testimony was “consistent,” “honest,” and believed “the victim was telling the truth.” The investigators concluded that “an arrest warrant be issued for the accused” on the charges of 1st- and 4th-degree sexual assault of a minor. But Maco declined to file charges against Allen out of a concern for young Dylan’s safety. “My concern was the further traumatization of the child,” Maco says in the film. “She had already been through so much. Was it truly in her best interest to put her on the stand?”
In addition to the media, Allen v. Farrow points a finger at Hollywood for continuing to support Allen and strengthen his mystique. There’s footage of Allen receiving a standing ovation at the 2002 Academy Awards, and a montage of A-list actors who worked with Allen after 1992 singing his praises, from Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem to Penelope Cruz. Then there was Emma Stone, who presented a lifetime achievement honor to Allen at the 2014 Golden Globes, which was accepted by Diane Keaton on his behalf. Dylan, Mia, and Ronan looked on in horror as Hollywood continued to celebrate a man they saw as a monster.
In 2014, after her brother Ronan tweeted about the molestation allegation during those Golden Globes, Dylan says that she submitted an op-ed to both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. The Los Angeles Times rejected Dylan’s essay, as did The New York Times’ op-ed page, so Ronan went to his family friend Nicholas Kristof, who was allowed to publish it on his New York Times blog (the Times’ op-ed page opted instead for Allen’s lengthy rebuttal).
“I am that little girl on the tape,” Dylan shares in the film. “So… it’s a very vulnerable part of me, and a very… a very hurt part of me. There’s a lot of… That little girl is in a lot of pain.”