Arts and Entertainment

“Allen v. Farrow” and the Power of Speaking Out

“Allen v. Farrow” tells Dylan Farrow’s story while assessing the world that protected Woody Allen for far too long.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“It has taken me a long time to reconcile that you can love somebody and be afraid of them,” Dylan Farrow said as she reflected on the events that took place on August 4, 1992.

She is of course referring to her alleged sexual assault at the hands of her then adoptive father, Woody Allen. Dylan Farrow was only seven. “Allen v. Farrow” centers around the the sexual abuse allegation made against Allen by Dylan Farrow and Allen’s longtime partner, Mia Farrow. The series explores the allegations, court proceedings, and their implications for Allen and the Farrows but branches out to reveal Allen’s disturbing behavior and, more generally, inspect the culture that absolved Allen of his crimes. The four part miniseries is filled with clips from Mia Farrow’s home videos, taped phone calls, first person narratives from the Farrows’ family and friends, and testimonials from experts.

Directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who have made their names through high-profile investigative journalism and scathing reviews of the flawed structures that uphold sexual misconduct, "Allen v. Farrow" offers an empathetic perspective of what is, at heart, Dylan Farrow's story. In works like “The Hunting Ground” (2015) and “On The Record” (2020), Dick and Ziering have used personal narratives to unveil the systems that fuel abuse and sexism in various industries. They continue this trend in the HBO docuseries by focusing on the Farrows' side of the story, utilizing Mia Farrow and Dylan Farrow's voices both to give a horrific record of one incident and to examine the society that has protected Allen for nearly 30 years.

"Allen v. Farrow" exposes audiences to a version of Allen the public is likely less familiar with. In stark contrast to his goofy, adorably awkward persona on screen, his uncharacteristically monotone voice when discussing his affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, and his bitter tone in his audiobook "Apropos of Nothing" depict a much more disturbing side of the comedian. Admittedly, "Allen v. Farrow'' depicts only one perspective of a complicated story. At first glance, this one-sidedness can easily be dismissed as lacking nuance––the series never attempts to tell Allen’s side of the story. However, this bias feels necessary to place a thumb on the scales for justice. Aside from a few letters and interviews, the Farrows' stories haven't been told. For the last few decades—more so when the allegations first unfolded—the masses were in support of Allen. In spite of his inappropriate relationship with Previn, his questionable and concerningly frequent depiction of May-December romances, his alleged relationships with minors, and his "inappropriately intense" behavior toward Dylan Farrow, the general consensus was that Mia Farrow was a vengeful ex-girlfriend who fabricated a tale to destroy Allen’s reputation. Even with the public nature of the allegations and the trial, Allen essentially came out unscathed. While his name was slightly tarnished, without a formal conviction, Allen has continued to direct, produce, and star in dozens of films to this day. To understand Allen's point of view, one mustn’t look very hard. The same can’t be said for the Farrows.

However, the prevalence of sexual misconduct in the film industry is greater than a few bad seeds. Rather, it is a product of the way Hollywood functions and is entrenched in these institutions. Hollywood stars’ fame and wealth seem to put them above the law or at least make it more difficult to sway public opinion against them. Most supporters of Allen were fans of his work. His beloved films were a cultural tour de force, and many believed that the creator behind such works was not capable of such horrifying actions. Audiences’ understanding of Allen’s character through his work was entirely incompatible with the image Dylan Farrow painted. While people tried to assess Dylan Farrow’s allegations in an objective manner, separating the art and the artist is nearly impossible, since the work is a reflection of its creator. As history has proven, few studios or companies would jeopardize the release of a large film—and the money that comes with it—to do the right thing and create a safer work environment. For this very reason, people like Allen have celebrated careers, even with an undercurrent of scandal.

In Hollywood specifically, one allegation affects more than one person. In a normal workplace, employees are often seen as disposable: a “regular” employee accused of such egregious acts would be fired and replaced without a second thought. However, in film or television, the welfare of hundreds of people is reliant on the star of the show. Thus, the firing of actors or directors has implications beyond the individual, incentivizing people involved in the industry to stay quiet about abuse to avoid risking their jobs. Ending production of the three films Allen released during the court proceedings would have cost tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs. These structures don't just protect offenders, but they also discourage survivors from speaking out. In Allen’s case, Mia Farrow was not only his longtime partner but also his leading lady. After meeting Allen, she almost exclusively acted in his films and declined searching for a manager because of her relationship. When the sexual assault allegations against Allen went public, Mia Farrow’s career took a hit, brought down by Allen’s credibility and influence in the industry at the time. Because of the word-of-mouth nature of communication in Hollywood and the looming threat of being blacklisted, sexual misconduct is reported a minority of the time.

Far too often, survivors of abuse or harassment are intimidated into silence. Movements encouraging solidarity are necessary to give a voice to those who have been oppressed. At its heart, “Allen v. Farrow” is about one woman telling her story. Through Dylan and Mia Farrow’s story, “Allen v. Farrow” critiques the world we live in and stresses the necessity of making ourselves heard.