'Allen v. Farrow' is the Most Damning Indictment of Woody Allen Yet

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Mia Farrow and Woody Allen at home with newborn Ronan (née Satchel) Farrow, and their adopted daughter, Dylan.
Mia Farrow and Woody Allen at home with newborn Ronan (née Satchel) Farrow, and their adopted daughter, Dylan. (HBO)

There are many astonishing things about HBO's new four-part documentary series, Allen v. Farrow. The first is just how many people in it—family, friends, neighbors, babysitters, ex-lovers—freely testify to Woody Allen's unhealthy interest in young girls, including his own adopted daughter, Dylan. The second is how those revelations hit you as a bystander. As the four episodes unfurl, you feel shock, disbelief, disgust, and a deep, unerring sense that this will be—this has to be—the end of Woody Allen.

The truth of the matter is that much of the information laid out in Allen v. Farrow has been readily available for nearly 30 years. Originally published in a Vanity Fair article titled "Mia's Story" back in November 1992, the many (many) testimonies against Allen have been out there, hiding in plain sight, ever since. That they have gone so widely unheeded, ignored and swept under the rug all this time has been hurting the Farrow family—especially Dylan—ever since. And its bearing witness to that pain ultimately gives Allen v. Farrow its power.

The series does an excellent job at deftly cutting through the defenses Allen has relied on, and hidden behind, since 1992. His narrative has long been that Farrow made up child sex-abuse allegations to get revenge on Allen after he left her for Soon-Yi Previn—one of her other adopted children. Allen's defenders have argued repeatedly that 7-year-old Dylan had been coached by Farrow to tell lies about him.

That version of events is undercut in Allen v. Farrow by corroborated statements that describe in detail Woody Allen's smothering and obsessive behavior toward Dylan from the time she was a toddler. Mia Farrow talks of his "incredible amount of focus on her" from the time she was born. As Dylan got older, multiple witnesses report, Allen's behavior towards her became more and more inappropriate. One even says she saw him molest Dylan at an outing to the beach.

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It is also said that Allen often isolated Dylan from her siblings. "He followed Dylan wherever she went," says Priscilla Gilman, a family friend who spent a lot of time with the kids when they were growing up. "We'd be playing ... and I'd look up and he'd be just standing there watching. Silently."

We also hear of interventions from mental health professionals, including Dr. Ethel Person, who contacted Farrow after seeing Allen interacting with Dylan in a manner she found concerning. Allen began therapy in the late '80s to deal with his "inappropriately intense" behavior with Dylan, but the consensus at the time was that he simply had not been around enough children to express his affection appropriately. His promises to work on it eased Farrow's concerns, even though Dylan was in therapy by the age of 5 because of how withdrawn she had become, particularly around her father.

One gets a visceral sense here of how suddenly regular family life imploded once and for all when Farrow describes finding graphic naked photos of Soon-Yi at Allen's apartment. (The couple had always kept separate residences.) The children, without exception, withdrew from Allen and supported their mother. It was at this time that Dylan said she realized, "It's not just me," and spoke up about Allen sexually abusing her.

That assertion is compounded here by the revelation that Soon-Yi was visiting Allen's apartment long before their relationship was made public. The documentary reports: "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."

The series also does a meticulous job presenting Woody Allen's art as speaking for itself. In the second episode, one Washington Post journalist, Richard Morgan, discusses the content of Princeton University's Woody Allen Archives. Morgan, having studied the scripts, notes and short stories from Allen's collection, shares his concerns about the content.

"The thing that kept on showing up was this focus he had on very young women," Morgan says. "It's basically always an older guy trying to deal with this younger woman ... It was almost assembly-line, every single time: 18-year-old, 18-year-old, 18-year-old. Cocktail waitress, cocktail waitress, stewardess, cocktail waitress, college student ... The repetitiveness of the attention sort of got into this obsessive territory."

A montage of clips from Allen's films are played—including Crimes and Misdemeanors, Whatever Works, Mighty Aphrodite, Husbands and Wives, Broadway Danny Rose, September, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Another Woman and Manhattan—to illustrate the point. All feature relationships between older men and much younger woman. "In a sense, he's grooming us," offers Alissa Wilkinson, a journalist at Vox. "When you see it over and over, it kind of attunes you to thinking 'This is normal, this is just a thing that people do. It's fine, and there's nothing I should feel odd about.'"

Then comes the revelation that, in 1979's Manhattan, the relationship between 46-year-old Isaac and 17-year-old Mary was based on a "secret relationship" Allen had in real life with a teenager named Christina Englehardt. Englehardt says her relationship with Allen, which began when she was 17, was born out of a desire to feel safe after being raped four times in her earlier teens. "I know it's taken a toll on me," she says of her relationship with Allen. "It's taken a toll on how I've been in relationships—trust in relationships. And it's made me a super vigilant mother."

Though Allen doesn't participate in Allen v. Farrow directly, his voice and perspective is heard throughout, via passages from the audiobook version of his 2020 autobiography, Apropos of Nothing. Arguments between he and Farrow are also here in the form of taped—and often chilling—telephone conversations after the Soon-Yi scandal became public.

In the end, Allen v. Farrow leaves no stone unturned in its presentation of what happened to this family during the '80s and '90s. And though there is much here that is already in the public domain, seeing it condensed and explored in such depth, alongside family photos and home videos, is a shocking and heart-wrenching experience. Anyone who watches these four episodes won't be left with any questions about Allen's behavior—only how he got away with it for so long.

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'Allen v. Farrow' premieres Sunday, Feb. 21, on HBO.