Updated at 3:33 p.m. ET on February 24, 2021.
Watching Allen v. Farrow, HBO’s new four-part miniseries about the 29-year-old allegations of child molestation against the director Woody Allen, I kept having a feeling that I couldn’t entirely identify. Since revelations about Harvey Weinstein emerged in late 2017—broken, in part, by Allen’s son, Ronan Farrow—harrowing stories about abusive men in the workplace have been reported one after another. But the story of Dylan Farrow, who was 7 years old in 1992, when she told her mother that her father had sexually abused her, is different, an allegation of domestic trauma that’s been weaponized by interested parties again and again. The feeling I had, I eventually realized, was one of wanting to look away. Not because I don’t believe Dylan (I do), or because I believe Allen’s work is so valuable that her testimony is worth shunting aside (I don’t, and no one’s is). It’s queasier than that: a nagging sense that, at this point, there’s still no way for Dylan to tell her story without it being exploited.
The conflict between Allen and the actor Mia Farrow began when Farrow discovered explicit Polaroid photos revealing that Allen had been having an affair with her 21-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Seven months later, a babysitter reportedly observed Allen kneeling with his head in Dylan’s lap, and when Farrow questioned Dylan later about what had happened, she told her mother that he’d molested her. The ferocious media blitzkrieg that arose when both stories became public led to Allen and Farrow being maligned in the press, with their friends and family flinging accusations into the cross fire. The week the news broke, during the 1992 Republican National Convention, newsweeklies bumped planned political coverage to focus on the story. “Cries and Whispers: The Ugly Explosion of an Unconventional Family,” Time blared. Allen’s proxies claimed that Farrow was an unfit mother who abused pills and neglected her adopted children in favor of her biological ones. Farrow’s allies told the press that Allen had been seeing a therapist for his inappropriate attachment to Dylan, with Farrow’s mother stating in one interview that he was “a desperate and evil man.”