Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn call HBO docuseries a ‘shoddy hit piece’
By Julia Jacobs
Shortly after the premiere of the first episode of “Allen v. Farrow,” an HBO documentary series that reexamines Dylan Farrow’s decades-old sexual abuse allegations against filmmaker Woody Allen, her adoptive father, a spokesperson for Allen released a statement Sunday night slamming the series, calling it a “shoddy hit piece.”
Letty Aronson, Allen’s sister, sent the statement — attributed to a spokesperson — shortly after the first episode aired, on behalf of Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, the filmmaker’s wife and the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow. In 1992, Farrow, Allen’s longtime girlfriend, learned of the relationship between Allen and Previn when Previn was a first-year college student. That relationship is also the subject of scrutiny in the four-part docuseries.
Neither Allen nor Previn participated in the series, but it does include audio excerpts from Allen’s recent memoir, “Apropos of Nothing.”
“These documentarians had no interest in the truth,” the statement said. “Instead, they spent years surreptitiously collaborating with the Farrows and their enablers to put together a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods.”
On Monday, the publisher of Allen’s memoir, Skyhorse, raised another objection to the series: that the filmmakers had used snippets from the audiobook without permission. In a statement, the president and publisher of Skyhorse, Tony Lyons, said that the “unauthorized” use of the audio in the first episode was “clear, willful infringement under existing legal precedent.”
Lyons said in the statement that the filmmakers did not request permission to use the excerpts and that the publisher learned late last week that the episodes make “extensive” use of the audiobook. The publisher’s lawyer notified HBO on Friday that “if the use of the audiobook were anywhere near what we were hearing, it would constitute copyright infringement,” he said.
The memoir was originally set to be published last year by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, until dozens of Hachette employees staged a walkout in protest and the publisher reneged. About two weeks later, his book was published by Arcade Publishing, an imprint of the independent publisher Skyhorse.
In response to the publisher’s objections, an HBO spokesperson provided a statement from the filmmakers, saying, “The creators of ‘Allen v. Farrow’ legally used limited audio excerpts from Woody Allen’s memoir in the series under the Fair Use doctrine.” The doctrine has been invoked to allow artists and journalists — including documentary filmmakers — to use limited amounts of copyrighted works for certain purposes, including using the material to illustrate an argument or to serve as the subject of a critique.
Episode 1 includes extensive interviews with Mia Farrow and Dylan Farrow, who accused Allen of sexual assault when she was 7 years old. It also included interviews with family and friends who said that even before Aug. 4, 1992 — the day that Dylan Farrow says Allen assaulted her — they witnessed behavior from Allen toward his daughter that they saw as inappropriate.
Allen has long denied the abuse allegations, arguing that Mia Farrow had coached Dylan to make the allegations after learning about his relationship with Previn.
In Sunday’s statement, Allen continued to deny the claims.
“As has been known for decades, these allegations are categorically false,” the statement said. “Multiple agencies investigated them at the time and found that, whatever Dylan Farrow may have been led to believe, absolutely no abuse had ever taken place.”
In later episodes, the series raises questions about one of those investigations, in particular: a report issued by the Yale Child Sexual Abuse Clinic, at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, which found Dylan uncredible after interviewing the child nine times during a seven-month period. According to the series, all the contemporaneous interview notes from those sessions were destroyed when the final report was issued.
Prosecutors in Connecticut, where Dylan Farrow says that Allen sexually assaulted her, declined to prosecute Allen in 1993. The state’s attorney said that he did so to spare Dylan the trauma of a trial but that he believed she had been molested.
The statement said that Allen and Previn were approached about the documentary less than two months ago and were “given only a matter of days” to respond to it. It also said it was “sadly unsurprising” that HBO was airing the series, considering a production deal it had made with Ronan Farrow, Dylan Farrow’s brother, who has spoken in support of his sister, including in the series. (Ronan Farrow, an investigative journalist who has reported extensively on sexual misconduct, has a deal with HBO to create investigative documentary specials, though he was not on the production team for “Allen v. Farrow.”)