The Creators Of Allen V. Farrow Break Down The Difficult Decision To Use That Shocking Dylan Farrow Footage
Each episode of Allen v. Farrow has been more difficult to watch than the last. The harrowing new HBO docuseries, directed by Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Herdy, meticulously unpacks the allegations of abuse against Woody Allen by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, using interviews with those involved, court documents, and original audio and video files. The four-part series also examines the disintegration of Allen and Farrow’s relationship in the aftermath of his affair with Soon-Yi Previn, Farrow’s adopted daughter (the two have now been married for 23 years and have two adopted sons together), and the ensuing media circus surrounding their custody battle.
In episode 2, which aired on February 28, audiences were shocked by never-before-seen footage of 7-year-old Dylan, filmed by her mother in August 1992, and in which she appears to describe her alleged assault. Episode three goes even further, revealing more of the tape and bringing in experts to analyze and unpack its contents. We also hear snippets of a phone conversation between Allen and Farrow in which the latter accuses him of trying to use the media and legal system to paint her as an unfit mother.
Farrow explained her own decision to allow the filmmakers to use the footage in a statement posted to Twitter last week. “I almost didn’t offer it to the filmmakers, because being this vulnerable in public is absolutely terrifying for me,” she wrote. “My fear in letting this tape come to light is that I am putting Little Dylan in the court of public opinion. While I have been able to take the stones thrown at me as an adult, to think of that happening to this little girl is stomach-churning. But I decided to let them share it in hopes that Little Dylan’s voice might now help others suffering in silence feel heard, understood, and less alone. And that my testimony might also help parents, relatives, friends, loved ones, and the world in general understand first-hand how an abused child might speak and interpret these horrific events.”
In the aftermath of the series premiere, Allen and Previn released a joint statement through a spokesperson, calling it “a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods.” Allen has consistently denied that any abuse took place, pointing to a 1993 Yale-New Haven report that he says cleared him of wrong-doing. (Episode 3 of Allen v. Farrow parses that report, which many experts at the time and today contend was flawed, in great detail.)
Ahead, Ziering and Herdy unpack this week’s episode — including what you didn’t see on-screen.
Refinery29: Towards the end of episode 2, we saw snippets from the video Mia Farrow shot of Dylan talking about her alleged assault. Episode 3 goes into much more detail about that footage. Was there any hesitation on your part about using it?
Amy Ziering: “Mia was in possession of the tape, and when Dylan came of age, she gave it to her. Amy [Herdy] asked Dylan about it, and she said she didn’t know if she even wanted us to watch it. Eventually she said, ‘If you come to my house you can watch it, but it doesn’t leave the premises,’ and finally, with a lot of deliberation and trepidation, she decided, ‘Okay, if this can help others in some way, I feel like maybe it has a greater purpose.’”
“Then we ourselves had to sit there and deliberate, How do we use this in the series in a way that it could be helpful and instructive? In episode 3, we have analysts talk about the tape and what they hear and see in it. You really come to understand the process of grooming, and how it’s not something that happens overnight, but incrementally and slowly and insidiously. It’s very hard for people and loved ones to recognize the red flags themselves, or what’s happening to someone else. We’re hoping the tape provides a window into the language of a child in crisis, and maybe that will help them hear it if it’s ever presented to them in another situation. It was for all those reasons that we elected to think that it was worthwhile to include it in a very careful, respectful, and sensitive way.”
AH: “From a journalistic standpoint, that tape is evidence of outcry. It’s a legal term — an outcry witness is the first person who is hearing a victim of sexual assault telling of what happened to them.”
AZ: “What we did when we went into this was just gather evidence. And Amy Herdy, when we were contemplating whether to include the tape or not, said: ‘This is evidence. We’re showing what the world never saw and the ways in which we allowed ourselves to believe misguided and misinformed spin about what happened.’”
Were there things that you chose not to include?
AZ: “There was a lot. Since we’re talking about the tape in particular — we learned in talking with experts that very, very often, abused children start speaking spontaneously about their abuse when they’re in situations that unconsciously trigger them or remind them. So, it’s when they’re in a bathtub, when they’re getting undressed, when they’re in bed — in intimate spaces. A lot of the small amount of tape that Mia took when Dylan was forthcoming about what happened to her and wanting to talk were in these situations. Sometimes, even though maybe Dylan’s articulations were particularly educational, we couldn’t use it because she’s not fully clothed. We do blur throughout, but there were certain places where we thought: That's just too inappropriate.”
"We do live in a day and age where everybody’s really entrenched and it’s so hard to discuss things anymore, but people are saying that the facts we show have persuaded them."
This most recent episode carefully tracks the many ways that women are not just ignored, but actively discredited when they try to report an assault. Mia is presented as a scorned lover out for revenge, while Dylan is kind of brushed off as gullible and coached by her mother. How does this fit in with how women have historically been portrayed?
AH: Everything that happened with blaming the mother, the entire concept of parental alienation, not believing the child victim who is a female child — I do wonder if it had been a male child making allegations, if a male child would have been more easily believed and taken seriously. When you step back and look at this case, it mirrors how women have been treated in these cases for decades in terms of being treated as if they are hysterical, being treated as if they are vengeful or spiteful. All of it points to misogyny and patriarchy.”
Do you think that the reaction would have been different today?
AH: “I would like to hope that the reaction would be different today, but I think people still have a very difficult time dealing with the issue of incest. The state of Maryland has cited the series as being very important to educating them when they’re putting together some legislation dealing with family law. Legislators have reached out to us and let us know that they hope to use this series in training for law enforcement and for judges who deal with family law cases.”
One thing I was really struck by was the amount of women film critics included as talking heads in the series — was that an intentional choice?
AZ: “It wasn’t, but I do think it works in a really interesting way. It shows you the ways in which all of us internalize misogyny. bell hooks talks about how racism knows no color; misogyny knows no gender. If we’re all living in a culture that espouses a certain ideology, no one’s inured to being affected by it. Likewise with these critics, what struck me was all these women saying ‘He [Allen] was for me quite formative and important, and I identified with him,’ even if it caused a gender shift to do so. Even if you’re of a different class, race or gender, you’re not immune to the toxic elements in the dominant culture.”
You mentioned the power of spin. What do you believe is the media’s responsibility in all of this?
AZ: “It’s appalling that everyone ran with the easiest narrative. We’re very seduced by people in power who have PR machines, this is not new or revelatory, but especially if it has a misogynistic spin, it will have legs and power. “
AH: “Rely on facts. Where is the piece of paper? I worked at the St. Petersburg Times [now the Tampa Bay Times], and the classic question that editors would ask reporters in that newsroom is, ‘Where is the paper? Where is the document that proves it?’ I think those critical questions were not asked for a very long time. Even now, we’re getting some questions from some who are defending Woody Allen, and the questions themselves are full of factual errors. It astounds me that people aren’t doing their homework, and are just taking someone’s word because of celebrity.”
There’s one scene where you talk about finding an empty office full of unopened boxes of documents that had been sitting there for years.
AH: “No one had ever asked for them…”
AZ: “It’s a cautionary tale. The best way to kneecap a really strong story is to create white noise. Be aware of that, not only with this narrative and what you might see come out, but all sorts of narratives, particularly when they’re uncovering troubling things that people in power did. If they don’t have a good unassailable defense, they will mount an offense.”
What has struck you about the public’s reaction to the episodes so far?
AZ: “We’ve just been so gratified that it’s still a story that people wanted to revisit after all these years, and I’ve been very heartened by the interest and also the way that people are responding to it, going, Oh my god. How did we not see what was right in front of us? And of course, hearing from survivors around the country has been really moving.”
Everyone is so entrenched in their views right now. Did you worry that you might be preaching to the choir with this series?
AZ: “We went in with no expectations. I’m 58; I was very much immersed in the public discourse at the time and convinced by it. I did not know what we would find or where this would land. We didn’t go in with an agenda to convince people. But the evidence that we uncovered has been so strong — the testimonies, the eyewitnesses, the court documents, the police files — pouring through all that and seeing these facts that just kept adding up and adding up and adding up, presented a story and a case to us that was not at all what I had ever recalled seeing or hearing in the media for decades. That’s what got us hooked. But what shocked me is how many people we’ve spoken to who have said ‘I went into it thinking one thing and came out thinking another.’ We do live in a day and age where everybody’s really entrenched and it’s so hard to discuss things anymore, but people are saying that the facts we show have persuaded them. Maybe there’s some room for truth still."
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).