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Film

The dark side of Hollywood: The full story of Woody Allen's sexual abuse allegations

@Russellisation

Previously known as one of the leading voices of American cinema, director Woody Allen helped to shape the landscape of independent western film through the late 1970s and ‘80s. Winning an Academy Award for Best Director for both Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen also helped to establish the careers of the likes of Jeff Daniels, Diane Keaton and many more. Despite this, and more recent success with Midnight in Paris, among other films, Woody Allen is better known in the contemporary landscape of cinema as a controversial figure thanks to the allegations of sexual misconduct that were pointed towards him in the 1990s. 

The story of such allegations dates back to 1980, however, when Woody Allen met Mia Farrow, the well-known actor of the likes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Great Gatsby, as well as the mother to seven children both biological and adopted. At the time, Woody Allen was known as one of the film industry’s leading voices, having just released Annie Hall as well as Manhattan, a film that involves a 40-year old character falling in love with a high-school student. 

Becoming an item, Allen and Farrow would be in a relationship for 12 years, where, in that time, the couple raise Farrow’s children, before finalising the adoption of Dylan and Moses in 1991. In 1992, however, the relationship came to an abrupt, dramatic end when, whilst at Allen’s apartment, Mia Farrow discovers a stack of explicit nude photos of her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, taken by the filmmaker. When the photos were discovered, Previn was just 21, whilst Woody Allen was in his 50s. 

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Soon after this discovery, later in 1992, the adopted daughter of both Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, told her mother about an alleged molestation that occurred between herself and the filmmaker at a young age. According to the court testimony on August 4th, 1992, Allen visited Dylan at the Farrow family home in Connecticut, where a friend’s babysitter Alison Strickland was also present, alongside Farrow’s babysitter, Kristie Groteke and a French tutor, Sophie Berge. 

Sensing something was wrong with the visit from Woody Allen, Strickland told her employer that she had seen the father kneel in front of Dylan, aged seven-years-old, with his head in her lap facing her body. The young girl also told her mother, Mia Farrow, who immediately contacted her attorney and took Dylan to her local paediatrician where the girl reported no signs or discussion of any abuse. 

Shortly after these allegations, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, go public with their relationship and the once celebrated filmmaker is faced with an onslaught of media criticism. Holding a press conference to defend himself against the very serious allegations of sexual assault, Woody Allen stated: “This is an unconscionable and gruesomely damaging manipulation of innocent children for vindictive and self-serving motives,” in typically meticulous prose. Suggesting that Farrow had influenced Dylan to lie as to punish Allen for his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the filmmaker went on to add, “Currently popular though heinous card played in all too many child-custody fights, and while sometimes effective, the tragedy of programming one’s child to cooperate is unspeakable”. 

For a while, the media whirlwind slowed down, until March 18th, 1993, where Allen confirmed that after a team of medical experts examined Dylan over several months, no signs of sexual molestation could be found. Shortly after this announcement, just a few days later on March 26th, Mia Farrow testified before the New York State Supreme Court where Woody Allen was suing for sole custody of their three children, Satchel, Dylan, and Moses. Confirming that Dylan had told her that Allen had molested the previous summer, Farrow also insisted that her young daughter didn’t want to tell the doctors about her abuse, videotaping a private confession between herself and Dylan which was roughly edited. 

Three key witnesses were called for the trial, each of which was present at the time when Woody Allen entered the Farrow home and had allegedly abused Dylan, these included Alison Strickland, Kristie Groteke and Sophie Berge. Groteke, the babysitter to Farrow’s children, testified that for around 20 minutes in the afternoon of the incident she was unable to locate neither Allen nor Dylan, assuming they were both outside. Whilst the filmmaker testifies he was in the bathroom during this point, French tutor, Sophie Berge, stated that she saw Dylan with no underwear on that same day, whilst Strickland’s original recount of the incident remained the case’s strongest piece of evidence against Allen.

Disputing the validity of Farrow’s edited tape and the statements from the three witnesses, the case continued for many months and, in May 1993, Dr. John Leventhal, one of the doctors who examined a young Dylan, testifies in a statement that the girl’s story had a “rehearsed quality”. Continuing, his statement read: “We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements that were made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother”. Both results that Dr. John Leventhal proposed supported Woody Allen’s position in the case, suggesting that Dylan’s comments had indeed been fabricated. In his closing remarks, the doctor noted: “We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination”. 

On June 8th, 1993, the court awarded the custody of Moses, Dylan, and Satchel to Mia Farrow and Woody Allen lost the long, hard-fought battle. As reported by a thorough examination by the New York Times, Woody Allen was handed a “scathing” decision from judge Elliott Wilk, calling the filmmaker, a “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive” father, criticising his affair with Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. 

Woody Allen and Soon Yi. (Credit: Alamy)

The case reached a climax in September 1993 when Frank S. Maco, the state attorney of Litchfield County, Connecticut holds a press conference to state that he has “probable cause” to charge Woody Allen with molesting Dylan Farrow. Strangely, however, the attorney stated that he would not charge Allen due to the potential trauma that such a prison sentence could cause for Dylan. 

In December 1997, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn would marry, bookending a disastrous few decades for the filmmaker that had seen him locked into a failed custody battle with Mia Farrow, as well as accusations of child molestation that continued to be questioned. Though the case had certainly quietened, Woody Allen walked away from the situation as a broken man and shell of his former celebrated self, leaving a chasm of destruction in his path.

As Woody Allen’s personal life struggled, so too did his professional career, with the filmmaker unable to reproduce the wonder of his early projects, spluttering out the likes of Hollywood Ending in 2002 as well as Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona in 2005 and 2008 respectively. Though Allen did see success with the likes of the Oscar-winning Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, such silver linings were often marred with the constant reminder of his previous alleged wrongdoings. 

The case reared its head again in 2014 when Woody Allen told The New York Times that he continues to blame Farrow for Dylan’s accusations, stating,: “Of course, I did not molest Dylan. I loved her and hope one day she will grasp how she has been cheated out of having a loving father and exploited by a mother more interested in her own festering anger than her daughter’s well-being”. Continuing, the director adds, “No one wants to discourage abuse victims from speaking out, but one must bear in mind that sometimes there are people who are falsely accused and that is also a terribly destructive thing”. 

Since then, the career of Woody Allen has been deconstructed and evaluated in light of the MeToo movement that looks to eradicate sexual assault in all walks of life, and particularly in the entertainment industry. In December 2017, Dylan Farrow wrote an op-ed for the LA Times titled Why has the #MeToo revolution spared Woody Allen? in which she attacked the “deliberately created fog” formed by the media around the Woody Allen story. In addition, a month after the release of the article, she appeared on CBS This Morning where she gave an emotional interview about her life with Allen. 

After being shown a video of the director denying the allegations, Farrow starts to cry before stating: “He’s lying, and he’s been lying for so long. It is difficult for me to see him and to hear his voice”. 

Whether or not the allegations centred on Woody Allen are true, what is certain is that his cinematic legacy has been forever tarnished. It is difficult to look back on the classics of his career, such as Annie Hall, Sleeper and particularly Manhattan, that involves a relationship between a man and an underage girl, without also remembering the scandalous nature of his 20th-century career. 

Though Woody Allen has never been convicted of any wrongdoing in a court of law, his questionable behaviour throughout the case has been a constant source of criticism, with judge Elliot Wilk’s damning assessment of his “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive” nature acting as a deafening reminder of his career. For such a supposed cinematic master, the career of Woody Allen is destined to go out, not with a bang, but a whimper as his damaged legacy has come to overwhelm his identity. 

Take a look at the trailer for the HBO documentary Allen v. Farrow that details the infamous case, below.