How Woody Allen Weaponized PR, Power, And Popularity Against Mia And Dylan Farrow

For Woody Allen, money and power kept him untouchable for far, far too long.

Woody Allen Denis Makarenko /

In Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan, there is a scene I keep thinking about.

Allen's character Isaac tells his ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep) he came over to “strangle” her for sharing the humiliating details of their relationship.

“Look at you,” she says. “You're so threatened.”

“Hey, I'm not threatened,” Isaac replies. “Because, of the two of us, I was not the immoral, psychotic, promiscuous one. I hope I didn't leave out anything.”


There’s a lot about Manhattan that feels different now — and maybe always should have felt that way. But in the wake of HBO’s documentary, Allen vs. Farrow, it’s impossible to ignore the ways Allen always told us who he is, or how he used the art of public relations, persona, and privilege to get us to accept it.

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On August 4, 1992, Dylan Farrow — the adoptive daughter of Allen and actress Mia Farrow — claimed that her father sexually molested her.

When the allegations were made public, Allen held a press conference wherein he referred to them as “an unconscionable and gruesomely damaging manipulation of innocent children for vindictive and self-serving motives.” He said the reason for the charges was his relationship with Farrow’s teen daughter, his now-wife Soon-Yi Previn.

And it worked. For years, celebrities and fans alike stood by Woody Allen.

Scarlett Johannsson said in 2019, "I love Woody. I believe him, and I would work with him any time. I see Woody whenever I can, and I have had a lot of conversations with him about it. I have been very direct with him, and he’s very direct with me. He maintains his innocence, and I believe him."


In 2018, Diane Keaton said on Twitter, “Woody Allen is my friend and I continue to believe him.”

Only in the last couple years has the tide seemed to turn.

The fact is, public opinion was always curried in Allen’s favor. He’s told us who he is throughout his career — an awkward genius with a penchant for young ingenues. As the documentary points out, he essentially groomed us for decades.

In Manhattan, he has a romantic, sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, and it’s been considered one of his best movies since its release. And while his onscreen persona is more or less Allen himself, that persona itself goes a long way toward endearing the public to his alleged misdeeds.


He’s awkward, nonthreatening, the butt of his own self-deprecating jokes, a fool at the mercy of these strong, albeit very young women.

Woody Allen couldn’t hurt anyone, we told ourselves. Look at his silly hats.

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But Allen is also a massively rich and famous person with powerful resources at his disposal.

“Every day, colleagues at news organizations forwarded me the emails blasted out by Allen's powerful publicist, who had years earlier orchestrated a robust publicity campaign to validate my father's sexual relationship with another one of my siblings,” his son Ronan Farrow wrote in the Hollywood Reporter.


“Those emails featured talking points ready-made to be converted into stories, complete with validators on offer — therapists, lawyers, friends, anyone willing to label a young woman confronting a powerful man as crazy, coached, vindictive. At first, they linked to blogs, then to high-profile outlets repeating the talking points — a self-perpetuating spin machine.”

It is ironic that Mia Farrow became a star thanks to Rosemary’s Baby, a film not only made by a beloved and respected director accused of raping a child, but a film in which her character is repeatedly gaslit by her partner for his personal gain.

Rosemary is fragile, delicate, timid — similar to how Farrow herself appears on camera — as if she could break at any moment.

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When men onscreen are timid, they are seen as non-threatening. When women are portrayed that way, they are labeled with that one word that’s kept women from being believed since time immemorial: crazy.

Some have noted concerns regarding Farrow, particularly of a white savior nature.

She adopted 10 children, nine of whom are people of color and several who were born with various health conditions and disabilities.

Three children — Lark Song Previn, Tam Farrow, and Thaddeus Wilk Farrow — have passed away. Lark from AIDS-related pneumonia, Thaddeus from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and Tam from a heart condition, though son Moses Farrow alleges he died of an overdose. Two of her children, Soon-Yi and Moses, have accused Mia of child abuse, and both side with Allen and are adamant he did not abuse Dylan (the rest of the surviving children support Dylan).


In the documentary, Mia admits to slapping Soon-Yi upon discovering the relationship with Allen.

Ironically, the thing that has kept Allen largely free of the MeToo of it all has been his marriage, one that is problematic any way you look at it, but was relegated to eccentricity and late-night punchlines.

Allen even describes their relationship like a paternal figure, since that is genuinely what he was for much of her life.

In an interview with NPR, Allen described their marriage this way: “I was paternal. She responded to someone paternal. I liked her youth and energy. She deferred to me, and I was happy to give her an enormous amount of decision-making just as a gift and let her take charge of so many things. She flourished.”


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In a different interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he elaborated further on the continually fatherly pride he takes in Previn, with more than a little of the white saviordom Farrow is accused of.

“Oh, well, one of the great experiences of my life has been my wife. She had a very, very difficult upbringing in Korea: She was an orphan on the streets, living out of trash cans and starving as a 6-year-old. And she was picked up and put in an orphanage. And so I’ve been able to really make her life better. I provided her with enormous opportunities, and she has sparked to them. She’s educated herself and has tons of friends and children and got a college degree and went to graduate school, and she has traveled all over with me now. She’s very sophisticated and has been to all the great capitals of Europe. She has just become a different person. So the contributions I’ve made to her life have given me more pleasure than all my films.”


He's been telling us for years. We just haven't been listening.

We owe Dylan, Mia, and all assault survivors our ability to listen to their stories, and the inconvenient truths straight from the source himself.

There are ways to help child abuse victims.

Want to get involved to bring an end to child sexual abuse? There are a few things you can do.

There are organizations like Prevent Child Abuse America that are good places to start and that are always looking for people to donate their time and money to their efforts.

The organization also suggests writing to local elected officials to support policies that bring an end to sexual abuse, and of course, the simplest thing to do is to keep eyes and ears open and to report abuse when you see it — and to always take children seriously when they say they're being abused.


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Courtney Enlow is a writer and editor whose work has appeared at Vanity Fair, Glamour, Pajiba, SYFY FANGRRLS, Bustle, Huffington Post, io9, and others. She has two kids, two dogs, and requires more wine please.