In the run-up to Allen v. Farrow, filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick touted new evidence involving one of Hollywood’s most notorious scandals. In its second episode, the docuseries dropped several of those bombshells.
The four-part HBO series, which explores the case against disgraced filmmaker Woody Allen, featured never-before-heard phone calls — between Mia Farrow and then-partner Allen discussing his relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn (now his wife of 23 years) — and videos of a 7-year-old Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter to Mia and Allen, describing sexual abuse, allegedly by Allen.
The incest claims were famously made public in the 1993 lawsuit that awarded Farrow custody of her and Allen’s children, and some of the testimonies supporting Dylan’s claims are revisited in the episode, which aired Sunday night. Those testimonies include the family babysitters and a family friend who were at the Farrow family’s Connecticut home on Aug. 5, 1992, the day of the alleged sexual assault on Dylan. But this is the first time the recordings, which include two days’ worth of videos recorded by Mia of Dylan, are being made public.
“They have been chased forever by a lot of people,” Ziering told THR of the videos of Dylan, which had been rumored to exist since the custody battle. “Amy Herdy [the lead investigative producer at Ziering and Dick’s Jane Doe Films] got them, and it’s all due to her intrepid and brilliant reporting.”
On Sunday morning, Dylan had taken to her social media to ask viewers for empathy ahead of the episode airing. “I decided to let them share it in the hopes that Little Dylan’s voice might now help others suffering in silence feel heard, understood and less alone,” she wrote, in part, of the footage. “I hope this tape helps us all find ways to allow painful secrets to come safely out their closets so we can all heal and move forward in strength and peace. No longer ashamed, buried, scared, sad and silent.”
When speaking recently to THR about convincing Dylan and Mia to revisit the case, Herdy explained, “There were several sets of records reflecting different aspects of this case. I started trying to ferret out where they were and how to get them. And there was more than one method of getting them, and I think that is pretty much all that I can say about that. But we were uncovering documents that no one had seen before.”
The second episode focuses on Mia as she shares her early life story, from her Hollywood upbringing and romances (she was briefly married to Frank Sinatra) to an explosive career as a young movie star (Rosemary’s Baby, The Great Gatsby) before marrying composer André Previn at the age of 25. When they famously split nearly 10 years later, Mia was a mother of six children, including Soon-Yi, whom they had adopted from Korea. (Herdy says André was prevented from participating in the docuseries due to deteriorating health at the time. He died in 2019.)
Allen met Mia fresh off the success of his 1979 classic film Manhattan. Here, Allen v. Farrow looks at the celebrated movie from a 2021 lens, given the story’s central relationship between Allen’s 40-something character and a 17-year-old (played by Mariel Hemingway). Christina Engelhardt, who was 16 when she met Allen but who says she entered into a sexual relationship with him from ages 17 to 23, speaks to the filmmakers about being his muse for the movie.
“After I saw Manhattan, I’m at the same age and there is Mariel looking like myself and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m his muse. I’m an inspiration.’ I even said [to Allen], ‘Am I the muse?’ and he said, ‘Of course you’re my muse.’ I felt I was the lucky one,” she says, before going into detail about her traumatic past and the toll her relationship with Allen would later take on her and her relationships. “I was very much in love with him. I thought he was magical.”
In early 2018, and after Dylan went public with her renewed claims against Allen amid the #MeToo movement, author Richard Morgan had gone to Princeton University’s Firestone Library to study 56 boxes worth of personal archives kept there by Allen. In a column for The Washington Post, Morgan concluded that, after going through the old drafts of screenplays, short stories and personal notes, Allen had “an insistent, vivid obsession with young women and girls.”
He elaborates on that conclusion in Allen v. Farrow, telling the filmmakers that the age-gap archetypes were an “assembly line” in Allen’s writing, veering into “obsessive territory.” The filmmakers show clips of Allen films Crimes and Misdemeanors, Whatever Works, Mighty Aphrodite, Husbands and Wives, Broadway Danny Rose, September, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and Another Woman to underscore the point. (After Allen v. Farrow‘s premiere, HBO Max said it would continue to stream six of Allen’s films, including some that are featured, “to allow viewers to make their own informed decisions.”)
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Allen and Farrow were the ultimate New York and Hollywood power couple, having done 13 films together. “If you had talked to me then, I would have told you that I’m the luckiest person on Earth,” says Farrow in the docuseries. Calling him a father figure to all of her children — which would go on to include Moses, Dylan and Ronan (the latter being Allen’s biological child) — Mia says she encouraged Allen to spend more time with Soon-Yi, who was shy due to a complicated family history and the oldest of the bunch. Once they started spending time together, including attending basketball games, Mia says, “I was just really happy because she never really had a father.”
In audio excerpts from Allen’s 2020 memoir, Apropos of Nothing, that are used throughout Allen v. Farrow, Allen describes the start of his relationship with Soon-Yi. “I found I was enjoying her company more than I should have,” he wrote about bringing her to a game. In the memoir, Allen (who lived separately from Mia and the kids in a New York City apartment) describes his first kiss with Soon-Yi as happening one weekend when she came home from college: “We’re alone in my screening room and, quite smoothly, if I do say so myself, I lean in and kiss her. She is complicit in the osculation and to the point, as always, says, ‘I was wondering when you were going to make a move.’ ‘Make a move?’ Give me a break. I’m still in some version of a relationship with your mother. True, for years, we’ve just been going through the motions. But, what are we getting into?'”
As he goes on to describe his intentions with Previn, the filmmakers draw a line between the relationship and the way his Manhattan character courted Hemingway’s in the film. “Soon-Yi and I thought we could have our little fling, keep it a secret; since Soon-Yi wasn’t living at home and I lived alone like a bachelor,” says Allen in the memoir. “I thought it would have been a nice experience and probably Soon-Yi would eventually meet some guy at college and enter a conventional relationship. I didn’t realize how attached to one another we’d already grown. Here was a sharp, classy, fabulous young woman. Highly intelligent, full of latent potential and ready to ripen superbly. If only someone would show her a little interest. A little support. And most important, some love.”
Skyhorse Publishing threatened a copyright infringement lawsuit against the series after the premiere, alleging the excerpts were played without their permission. Ziering and Dick, however, say the series legally used the limited audio excerpts under the Fair Use doctrine. “The book came out toward the end of our making of this,” Ziering told THR. “[At that point], his voice wasn’t featured [in the series] except through media clips. Then his book came out, and I remember Kirby coming into the editing room and telling everyone [Allen] did an audio recording. That was a plot twist for us. We didn’t see that coming.”
Added Dick: “We wanted to put it in because what you see in the book is what he is putting out into the world, what he has put out into the world for the last 30 years.”
Allen claims his relationship with Soon-Yi began after her first semester in college, in December of 1991. Mia, who had described finding out about the affair after discovering explicit Polaroids of Soon-Yi at Allen’s apartment in the first episode, says in the second installment that the relationship between Allen and her daughter began when she was still in high school. “[Soon-Yi] would come, she would be in her school uniform at lunch, the doormen would show her up. The maid would change the bed after she left. The maid told me about the condoms in the wastebasket and the sheets that needed changing, all of that,” says Mia, noting that she also spoke to doormen and Allen staffers (some who also testified in court). A title card says Mia discovered the Polaroids seven months after Previn graduated from high school.
Allen v. Farrow explores the fallout from the affair, including Mia describing an incident where she physically attacked her daughter. “I’m not proud of that,” she says. “I love her so much, and I didn’t ever blame her because she was just a little kid when he came into the family. She was a little girl. We were family and he was in my home as my partner. And as such, he had responsibilities. You don’t get to have sex with my children. That isn’t part of the deal.”
In recorded phone calls from the summer of 1992, shortly before the alleged assault on Dylan, Allen and Mia are heard discussing the affair. At first, Allen says he wants to get his relationship with Mia back on track, and she subsequently kept making movies with him. In later recordings, they discuss how to handle the news getting out into the public. When Mia asks how Allen could deny it, he says, “You’ll find out.” (Mia says she taped the conversations after discovering Allen was taping their phone calls, which included putting Soon-Yi on the phone to “lie about her age,” says Mia.)
That summer, Soon-Yi disappeared from her job at a camp and, according to Allen’s memoir, “It wasn’t long before we were back together.” Mia took her keys back from Allen, but said she honored his parental rights to see the children, since he had legally adopted Dylan, and they laid out times for him to come visit.
“I didn’t want to see him,” says Dylan. “But if I said, ‘No, go away,’ I would have to face some kind of vicious, unpredictable punishment.”
Then, on Aug. 5, 1992, Mia and a family friend, Casey Pascal, quote their respective babysitters (Cristi Groteke and Alison Strickland, who testified in ’93) about Dylan and Allen disappearing for roughly 20 minutes when Mia and Pascal left their kids at the Farrow house to run an errand. When they returned home, Mia says Dylan ran up to her in a sundress and had no underwear on. The next morning, Pascal says she called Mia to relay what her “upset” sitter had witnessed, that “Dylan was staring off into space and Woody’s face was in her lap.”
Mia remembered her daughter didn’t have underwear on, and when she asked Dylan “if daddy had his face in her lap yesterday, she said yes.” That’s when Mia began to record Dylan.
On the videos, which she says she took over the course of two days whenever Dylan mentioned the incident, the 7-year-old says, “He touched [my] privates. And then he was breathing on my leg. And then he squeezed me too hard, that I couldn’t breathe.” When pressed about where he allegedly touched her, Dylan shows Mia on her body.
Mia says Dylan told her that he took her into the attic. An adult Dylan then recalls how she was laying on her stomach, with her back to Allen. “I felt trapped,” she now says. “He was saying things like, ‘we’re gonna go to Paris together, you’re going to be in all my movies.’ Then he sexually assaulted me. I remember just focusing on my brother’s train set. And then he just stopped. He was done. And we just went downstairs.”
When Mia spoke to the sitters, who said they searched the whole house and couldn’t find them, Mia says, “That’s when I realized that they had gone in the attic. There was no other explanation. They had been missing. It was real.”
She continues, “It’s really hard to believe that somebody you respect, and, for me, somebody you really love deeply, could be capable of doing something so awful to a child. It’s very hard to believe. Very, very hard to believe. I knew it would be a considerable thing [to pursue] because Woody had boundless money. But, this is your reality. You have one job and that is to stand by your child and keep her safe.”
Allen denies ever having been violent or sexually abusive with Dylan. He also denies ever having been sexually inappropriate with teenage girls. After the premiere of Allen v. Farrow, he and Soon-Yi released the following statement about the docuseries: “These documentarians had no interest in the truth. Instead, they spent years surreptitiously collaborating with the Farrows and their enablers to put together a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods. Woody and Soon-Yi were approached less than two months ago and given only a matter of days ‘to respond.’ Of course, they declined to do so. As has been known for decades, these allegations are categorically false. Multiple agencies investigated them at the time and found that, whatever Dylan Farrow may have been led to believe, absolutely no abuse had ever taken place. It is sadly unsurprising that the network to air this is HBO – which has a standing production deal and business relationship with Ronan Farrow. While this shoddy hit piece may gain attention, it does not change the facts.”
Herdy told THR she made the first of two requests to interview Allen for the project in June 2018. His team never responded, but she confirmed with an assistant at 42 West that the request had been received.
Allen v. Farrow will continue to air Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.