Allen v. Farrow | ★★★★ | Streaming now on HBO
Woody Allen has always been center stage in the Woody Allen story.
The opening scene of Annie Hall begins with Allen monologuing directly to the camera with his hallmark blend of wit and pessimistic, self-deprecating shtick. The New Yorker cuts a diminutive figure, with a long face partly obscured by a bushy yet balding hairline and thick-rimmed glasses.
In a cinematic era dominated by machismo, from the clean-cut Robert Redford to the ruffianly Al Pacino and the ghoulish Jack Nicholson, Allen offered an alternative version of masculinity that audiences latched onto—here was a small man, a nonthreatening man, a funny man, an honest man. He groomed all of us.
Allen’s predatory behavior—from his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his longtime partner Mia Farrow, to the allegation he molested their adopted daughter Dylan Farrow—has been widely reported without any real consequence to the 85-year-old auteur’s career.
His side of the story has dominated the media narrative, painting Farrow as mentally unhinged and Allen as a victim of true love and a vengeful ex.
Allen v. Farrow, a four-part docuseries that recently concluded on HBO, tells the other side of the story, bringing into focus not only Allen’s victims but the powerful PR machine that has shielded Allen from reckoning for decades. It’s a one-sided account that centers the story on Dylan, who says she was just seven years old when Allen led her to the attic, told her to focus on a toy train, and molested her.
Like Allen’s films, the docuseries begins with Allen, highlighting what drew Mia Farrow and the rest of the world to fall in love with him.
But quickly, Allen’s endearing mask falls away as friends and family recall his routinely inappropriate behavior with Dylan. The second episode focuses on Allen’s grooming of Soon-Yi, three decades his junior, starting when she was a teenager. The same year Allen allegedly molested Dylan, Farrow discovered sexually explicit photos of Soon-Yi, then a first-year college student, in Allen’s apartment.
It’s not the graphic details that make this documentary compelling, though, but the way Allen was able to control the media narrative, elude legal consequences, and continue to hide in plain sight. His movies, more than 70, often star him alongside much younger women (in his 50s in the movie Manhattan, he dates a 17-year-old), yet with Allen controlling the script, he’s cast as a flawed but lovable hero, sidestepping public scrutiny.
Allen declined to be interviewed for the docuseries. He maintains his innocence and denies ever sexually abusing Dylan. As the series unravels, the focus shifts from Allen to Dylan—the child she was and the woman she is now—and the enduring trauma of sexual abuse. After a nightmare, the monster vanishes when you turn on the lights.
As Allen recedes behind a PR machine, his victims are stepping into the light. This is a reckoning long overdue. It’s time to hear them and close the curtain on Allen for good.
Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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