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Allen v. Farrow’s Dylan Farrow Videos Are a Necessary Shift in Focus

Young Dylan Farrow. Photo: Courtesy of HBO

The second episode of the HBO docuseries Allen v. Farrow included long-discussed but never-before-seen video of Dylan Farrow, at age 7 in 1992, describing how her father, Woody Allen, sexually abused her. In the third episode, which aired Sunday night, even more footage of Dylan, shot by her mother, Mia Farrow, was broadcast that showed the child further explaining how her father “touched her privates” and answering follow-up questions from her mother.

It is heartbreaking to watch these videos because of the violation that Dylan, in such plain language, describes. But it’s also difficult to take in because she has to say all of this in front of a camera. Despite not having been seen publicly until now, the videos of Dylan have often been cited by Allen supporters as proof that Mia Farrow convinced her daughter to concoct a story about being assaulted by her dad, an idea introduced into the public sphere by a report from the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital, where Dylan repeatedly met with social workers. (As Allen v. Farrow does at the end of every installment, I am obliged to note that Allen continues to deny he abused Dylan Farrow and has not been criminally charged. I am also obliged to note, as the docuseries does, that the Yale-New Haven evidence was deemed not credible by the judge in the Allen v. Farrow trial that centered on who would get custody of Dylan and her brothers, Ronan and Moses.)

Some people believe the “Mia coached Dylan” narrative purely because they remain consistently and supremely loyal to Allen. But there’s another reason that, even without seeing the videos, others may have found it easy to assume those clips were evidence of a lie rather than the truth: because the idea of filming a child talking about her own abuse is upsetting and uncomfortable. It’s upsetting and uncomfortable to imagine filming a child, particularly your own, discussing such things. And, as expected, it’s upsetting and uncomfortable to watch young Dylan discuss all of this in Allen v. Farrow.

In 2021, when iPhone cameras document every conceivable form of human behavior, from TikTok dances to police brutality, the idea that Mia Farrow filmed Dylan may not seem strange at all, especially to younger generations whose whole lives are lived on-camera. In 1992, though, when cell phones were neither smart nor widely owned and The Real World had only just made modern reality television a thing, capturing this kind of footage seemed a tad outside of the norm. Still justifiable, but more unusual than it seems now.

Obviously the alleged abuse itself is the real sin, not the talking about it or the documentation of it. But the idea of facing incest or child molestation is so fundamentally disturbing that, as a defense mechanism, some may be inclined to direct their horror at the person holding the camera instead of at the events being described. It’s easier to face the (arguably) questionable decision to put a child’s confession on tape than it is to confront the truly despicable act that the child says her father committed. But shifting the focus in this way is also a form of denial, one that for decades allowed the public to ignore and minimize the pain expressed by the person in the center of the frame in those videos: Dylan Farrow.

Mia Farrow says in Allen v. Farrow that she recorded Dylan because she wanted to document what she had told her as soon as possible, and the family therapist was away for the summer and unreachable. Farrow, who frequently carried a camera around her Connecticut home and filmed her kids, did what came naturally to her. In retrospect, that was wise. Young Dylan Farrow, sadly, was a very credible witness to the theft of her own innocence. Those videos are difficult to deny.

To that point, in Sunday’s episode, several child psychologists watch those home movies and characterize Dylan’s rhetoric and body language as consistent with that of an abuse victim who’s telling a story based on her own experience, as opposed to repeating something she was coached to say. Still, it is unfortunate that Dylan had to repeat what happened to her so many times. We don’t see all of the footage, but it’s clear that Mia Farrow shot video of her daughter multiple times. In the most wrenching clip, after saying, “I didn’t want him to do it, mama,” Dylan whispers, “I don’t like it, and I also don’t want to talk about it.” Mia Farrow turns off the camera at that point, but Dylan’s fatigue at revisiting her trauma is apparent. Certainly that fatigue must have only deepened after telling the family pediatrician about it, then meeting with the Yale-New Haven social workers nine times, then having to talk about all of it again with investigators in New York, Allen’s place of residence.

But this is what abuse victims have to go through if they decide to press charges. They have to repeat themselves over and over, poking at a wound that keeps demanding air when all they want to do is place a permanent Band-Aid over it. It is awful that such a young child should be put through that wringer. While Allen v. Farrow has kicked up all kinds of old discussions about whether Woody or Mia was in the wrong, that core fact should not be forgotten. It’s what should be discussed more than anything else after watching this series: that Dylan, and others like her, are often put through extra hell for being honest about the hell they have already endured.

In a statement shared on Twitter prior to the broadcast of episode two of Allen v. Farrow, Dylan Farrow explained that she was very reluctant to have the footage of her young self shown in the documentary. Her mother had given her the videos when she became an adult and told her to do what she wanted with them, but she hid them away for years. She ultimately decided to let them be shown, she said, “to find some healing for me and my childhood self.” In a strange way, it’s natural that she’s finding that healing in an on-camera context. Dylan Farrow grew up with an Academy Award–winning director as a father and a mother who was constantly filming her kids. Dylan Farrow used the term “magical hour” at a young age, something her observers at the Yale-New Haven clinic perceived as evidence of fabulism rather than what it was: the vocabulary of a child raised to speak the cinematic language.

When Dylan spoke about personal things, including a teenage breakup with a boyfriend, a moment that appears in next week’s final episode, she sometimes did it through a camera lens. And when she described the most horrible thing that ever happened to her, an abuse of trust that took place as her dad promised she could be in one of his movies someday, she did that on-camera, too. Maybe it makes sense that the only way for Dylan Farrow to come full circle and find something akin to closure is to allow herself, and the girl she refers to as Little Dylan, to look into the lens one more time and tell her truth.

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Allen v. Farrow’s Videos Are a Necessary Shift in Focus