Allen vs Farrow

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A scene in Allen vs Farrow.
A scene in Allen vs Farrow.
Photo: Showmax


Allen vs Farrow




4/5 Stars


This docu-series examines the sexual assault allegations made against Woody Allen by his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow.


Dylan Farrow's infamous 2014 open letter in the New York Times Opinion section begins with the phrase, 'What's your favourite Woody Allen movie?' That kind of introspection is what Allen vs Farrow requires of the audience to think about what we as a society choose to ignore and who we exempt.

Allen vs Farrow tells the story of perhaps one of the biggest battles between two stars, namely Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. The two were together for 12 years, during which they had three children – two adopted (Moses and Dylan) and one biological (Satchel, later called Ronan). When they met, Mia already had seven children (both biological and adopted) from her marriage to composer Andre Previn. The two had sort of a charming relationship, never marrying, living in separate residences opposite each other over Central Park in New York City, and making a range of films together. This all ended when Mia found pornographic photographs of her then-21-year-old daughter, Soon-Yi, at Allen's home. After this, Dylan Farrow accused Woody Allen of molesting her and Woody Allen accused Mia Farrow of using Dylan to get back at him for having an affair with Soon-Yi.

The problem with that entire narrative is that the sexual assault allegation is treated as part of a bad separation or as part of a family scandal. Very rarely before 2014 was how this impacted Dylan considered. It was like the detail about Woody Allen that most of his fans cared to forget about. We couldn't forget that he married his 'step-daughter' and that just added to his kooky image, but that complicated issue with his other daughter, let's not talk about that.

That was why in 2014, when Dylan wrote her open letter, and Woody Allen was receiving lifetime achievement awards and standing ovations, it shocked everyone. It caused people to see Dylan as an actual human being who has had to live through this trauma while seeing her alleged abuser constantly being lauded.

Allen vs Farrow allows Dylan to tell her side of the story, supported by her mother, some of her siblings, friends, family, law enforcement, child abuse specialists and journalists. When the allegations were first made, the public was not willing to listen; when she spoke about it again in 2014, it was branded as a private family issue, and in 2018 when she spoke out again during the #MeToo movement, people were finally ready to listen, and this docu-series perhaps will help to provide her with catharsis and healing.

A theme that is discussed in the series is that of the power of influence, money and celebrity. A common thread in many of the documentaries that have dominated the conversation about sexual abuse is that a lot of the perpetrators were able to get away with their crimes because of their money and influence (for example, Leaving Neverland, Surviving R Kelly and Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich). Allen vs Farrow explains exactly how methodically Allen's defence against the allegations was and why it worked. And if anything, Woody Allen knows how to create a good narrative that is palatable to the public.

The biggest argument against watching and supporting Woody Allen films is that one should separate the art and the artist. Episode two of the docu-series eviscerates this argument by combing through Allen's films and displaying how many of them display situations when young girls are pursuing much older men. The perfect example of this is Manhattan (1979) which shows Allen playing a 42-year-old in a romance with a 17-year-old high school student played by Mariel Hemingway. I watched Manhattan for the first time last year, and I was struck by how uncomfortable it made me and that it was lauded as one of Allen's best films. It was very easy to draw parallels between his obsession with young girls in his films and his grooming of young girls in real life. The documentary also features an interview with a young model who claims that she was dating Allen during that time and that she was the inspiration for Hemingway's character.

Allen vs Farrow also reveals footage that has not been seen by the public before, such as video footage of Dylan telling Mia what Woody did to her and taped phone calls between Mia and Woody. The law side of the docu-series focuses on the abuse allegations and the messy custody battle between Woody and Mia. But like films with similar titles like Kramer vs Kramer, this docu-series only really tells one side of the fight.

The Allen in the title seems to only exist as the villain in Dylan (and Mia's story). The filmmakers revealed that Allen and his wife, Soon-Yi, declined to participate in the docu-series, so Allen's side is mostly told through the audiobook of his 2020 memoir, Appros for Nothing. However, it can be argued that the filmmakers were selective about what sections of the book they chose to feature. Allen and Soon-Yi have made a statement since the docu-series' release, calling it a 'shoddy hit piece.'

However, the docu-series does an excellent job of working through the evidence in order to substantiate Dylan's claims. But even though the tide has changed and we are more likely to believe victims, and Woody Allen's career has cooled a lot over the last couple of years, this will essentially always be a 'he said, she said' story.

Perhaps the docu-series tries too hard to make a tidy story out of this, there will never be a definite conclusion, and it will also be a conflicting issue. There are many details that Allen vs Farrow leaves out, such as the notorious lawyer of Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump, Alan Dershowitz defending Mia, the fact that three of her adopted children died, and they quickly brush off abuse allegations made by Soon-Yi and Moses Farrow.

But this is Dylan's story, and the series does work well when it dials it back to Dylan and how being able to talk about what happened is giving her voice meaning. Taking away the fight between Woody and Mia, there is a young girl whose trust was broken, and who had to build herself up again. It is also an interesting case study on how rich men can use their power and influence to protect themselves.


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