The remains of infamous filmmaker Woody Allen’s (“Annie Hall”) legacy are in deep peril following the recent release of the first installment of Amy Ziering’s and Kirby Dick’s (“On the Record”) “Allen v. Farrow.” The documentary examines sexual assault allegations against Allen on his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, along with his controversial relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, another one of Mia Farrow’s adopted children.
Ziering and Dick start by portraying Allen in a positive light. He is praised by critics for his neurotic style of comedy and unconventional personality for a lead actor, and they reveal his gentle and sweet interactions with Mia Farrow’s children through home-video footage. Mia Farrow details her love story with Allen, which began in 1980, and Allen is praised as a father figure in interviews with her children.
Yet, as it reaches 1985, the documentary flips its portrayal of Allen. It was during that year that Farrow adopted her ninth child, Dylan, a blonde girl as requested by Allen. Family friends, Mia Farrow, several of her children and unlicensed excerpts from Allen’s memoir, “Apropos of Nothing,” attest to Allen’s immediate infatuation with Dylan. Dylan says she “worshipped” Allen but describes how, as time went on, their relationship became more sinister.
In compelling interviews, Dylan and those close to her recount Allen’s obsession and singular focus on her. The documentary reflects on how Mia Farrow eventually convinced Allen to see a psychologist after significant disputes over the situation, and Farrow’s anxiety was alleviated when Allen agreed to stop.
In 1991, Allen gained shared custody of Dylan and another one of Farrow’s adopted children, Moses. However, the family dynamic erupted in 1992 when Mia Farrow discovered naked photographs of Soon-Yi in Allen’s apartment, a revelation which was soon revealed to the rest of the family. The episode ends with Dylan recalling that it was at this point she realized Allen’s behavior with her might not be normal. The first episode does not address what we know is coming — the day in August 1992 when Allen visited the Farrow home, where he is alleged to have molested Dylan.
“Allen v. Farrow” succeeds in drawing the viewer into this extremely strange and sad story. Through the extensive use of home-video footage shot by Mia Farrow, the viewer is provided with a vivid portrait of what family life looked like for the Farrow family. By showing Dylan and her siblings in their childhood and as adults in present-day interviews, the documentary creates a sense that we know these people, which makes the already deeply personal subject matter feel all the more consequential.
While the documentary is compelling, there is something uncomfortable about watching it on a for-profit network like HBO. As the credits roll, hundreds of names of people who are vested with the documentary being a success appear. The moral ramifications of telling a tragic story of sexual assault in this manner are debatable, but what is clear is that providing an accessible platform for these issues to be explored is important. The allegations against Allen are not new; they have been public knowledge since 1992. However, since the beginning of the #MeToo movement in 2017, people are more willing to pay attention to terrible but pervasive stories of sexual assault and harassment.
Therefore, the focus of “Allen v. Farrow” should remain on the facts, evidence and perspective of Dylan, the true victim of the situation, as opposed to that of Farrow, or any slant of Ziering and Dick, in order to avoid any implication of exploitation.
Allen and Soon-Yi declined to participate in the documentary after reportedly being asked to participate less than two months before its release.
Additionally, the first episode makes no mention of Moses’s allegations against Mia Farrow herself, from coaching Dylan, to acting inappropriately against her other children. It is yet to be seen if future episodes will remedy this, and answer questions about the objectivity of the documentary. The fuller the picture that the documentary presents, the stronger the message against abuse will be.
There is no question, however, that “Allen v. Farrow” is a powerful and tragic narrative, which ultimately leaves the viewer feeling sympathy for Dylan, as well as other members of the Farrow family.
Daily Arts Writer Aidan Harris can be reached at email@example.com.