The Awful Intimacy of Allen v. Farrow
But over the years, Dylan’s story has been steadfast, even if few cared to remember it. In 2014, when she chose to re-air it via an open letter in The New York Times, and in 2018, when she spoke out again amid the #MeToo movement, she said she did so to shock an industry that had never stopped lauding the man she says abused her.
The series, in litigating Dylan’s accusations once again, stretches the conflict out into a fourth successive decade. Allen v. Farrow has the weighty quality of wanting to put something definitively to rest; in focusing on Dylan, and in presenting some previously unaired evidence, its filmmakers, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, aim to offer a conclusive case for Allen’s guilt. (He has always denied abusing Dylan in any way, and declined to be interviewed for the series, as did Soon-Yi and her brother Moses Farrow, the two siblings in the family who publicly spoke out in 2018 against their adoptive mother.)
But a documentary series, ideally, should feel like a journalistic investigation, not a case being presented in family court, especially when so many of the details have been picked through and blasted out by so many parties for so long. It’s easy to see why Ziering and Dick might have wanted to gloss over some facts. Custody battles and sexual-assault cases are both zero-sum: Any point that undermines one side, however frivolous, tends to have the unfortunate effect of boosting the other. The fact that Allen, Soon-Yi, and Moses declined to participate in the show is unfortunate (and unsurprising). It doesn’t justify, however, giving such short shrift to the accounts of the latter two, both of whom have offered strikingly different versions of growing up in the Farrow household in the past, and who are cursorily dismissed on camera by their white siblings. The show’s narrative is too determinedly focused for any nuance that might complicate its momentum.
The landscape for survivors has also changed significantly even over the past three years, shifting the power dynamics of the family yet again. Since Dylan retold her story in 2018, Allen has been effectively cast out of the industry. Most of the stars who once attached themselves to his projects have disavowed him; his most recent movie was released primarily outside of the U.S.; his four-movie deal with Amazon was dropped; his autobiography was pulped by Hachette after the publishing company’s employees staged a protest. (It was later released by the independent-trade house Arcade.) There’s so little appetite to defend Allen that, in the moments when I realized that the series had omitted elements that might have portrayed Mia Farrow unfavorably, I felt a little guilty about remembering them.
Ziering and Dick have made their name exposing institutional abuses of power and the ways in which organizations protect alleged offenders to protect themselves. Their 2012 feature, The Invisible War, delved into an epidemic of sexual abuse within the military, and 2015’s The Hunting Ground revealed how assaults on college campuses are routinely covered up or underreported to minimize the damage to academic reputations. On the Record, released last year, considered assault allegations made against the music producer Russell Simmons and the conditions within the industry that deter accusers from speaking out. (Simmons denies all allegations against him.) But with Allen v. Farrow, the directors enter a different realm. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ziering and Dick explained that they’d been offered funding for a project that explored incest, and in Dylan, they seemingly identified a subject who allowed them to examine both the consequences of childhood trauma and the hypocrisy of Hollywood mythmaking.