Twenty-six years after the sexual assault allegations and affair that made Woody Allen one of the the most problematic figures in Hollywood, Allen’s wife of 20 years has broken her silence to speak in his defence. In a feature for New York Magazine and published online by Vulture, Soon-Yi Previn talks about her life under her adoptive mother, Mia Farrow; her interpretation of the events surrounding Allen’s alleged molestation of Dylan Farrow; and her affair with and eventual marriage to the man who dated her mother for 12 years.
Since anyone who has never done an hours-long deep-dive on the intricacies of Woody Allen’s relationships and the Farrow family’s allegations against him might not be totally up-to-date on the convoluted details of the story (and its conflicting narratives), we’ll start with a quick refresher.
Farrow, Previn and Allen: The Basics
Soon-Yi Previn was adopted from a South Korean orphanage at six years old in 1977 by Mia Farrow and André Previn, who were married at the time. When the couple divorced in 1979, Farrow retained custody of Soon-Yi as well as several more of the couple’s adopted children (twins Matthew and Sascha remained with their father).
Four years later, Farrow began a relationship with Woody Allen with whom she would eventually adopt Dylan Farrow in 1985 and give birth to Ronan Farrow in 1987 (yes, the same Ronan Farrow who broke the Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves sexual misconduct stories in The New Yorker in the past year).
In 1991, a then-20-year-old Soon-Yi began an affair with Allen while her mother was still dating him. In January 1992, Mia discovered the affair when she found nude pictures of Soon-Yi taken by Allen.
In August 1992, Dylan and her mother accused Allen of sexually assaulting the then-seven-year-old. Allen was cleared of assault charges by an investigation, but a month later, a judge ruled that he had “no respect for the integrity of [Dylan’s] body,” mandated that he attend therapy and denied him custody or visitation rights.
Earlier this year, Dylan Farrow spoke out in an interview and in an open letter for The New York Times detailing the assault she endured at the hands of Allen and contextualizing the situation in the Me Too Movement. While she received support from Ronan, her other brother Moses Farrow (adopted by Mia and Previn before the Allen relationship) spoke out shortly after in defence of Allen, saying Dylan’s testimony was the result of abuse and coaching by Mia.
Soon-Yi on Mia Farrow
A main theme in the Soon-Yi piece is that her retelling of events falls in line with that of Moses Farrow. She describes abuse at the hands of Mia and alleges that her mother was one to play favourites, saying “She was never able to love more than one person at a time.” She says that from the moment she met Mia at the orphanage, “She didn’t ring true or sincere.”
She goes on to describe instances of Mia hitting her; throwing things at her; calling her “a moron and an idiot, retarded” and leaving her to shop, cook and clean for the household from the age of 12. She also recounts psychological abuse and both her parents’ “bone-chilling tempers.”
“I do have a little learning disability,” she is quoted, “I’ve never spoken about it, because Mia drummed it into me to be ashamed about it.”
Soon-Yi on the affair
The piece acknowledges that Soon-Yi has been painted in the media all at once as a “victim” of Allen’s pedophilia, a “seductress” who pursued her mother’s boyfriend to enact revenge and an accomplice in Allen’s continued success while being a credibly accused sexual predator. As for the first two, Soon-Yi doesn’t see either of those characterizations of their relationship as true.
While she acknowledges the affair as “a huge betrayal on both our parts, a terrible thing to do, a terrible shock to inflict on [Mia],” she says that since Allen was never a father figure to her, it is not actually incestuous in the way it is often painted.
“I already had a father,” she said, “He was André Previn, and Mia never married Woody, nor did they ever live together. He was my mother’s boyfriend, plain and simple. He was like a separate entity. I thought Mia had pulled the wool over his eyes by getting him to believe that she was such a great mother. I felt he was not very observant, not worth getting to know. This is why it’s the biggest shock to me that we ended up together.”
The piece also quotes Allen on the subject.
“People think that I was Soon-Yi’s father, that I raped and married my underaged, retarded daughter,” he said, echoing a statement made by Soon-Yi in 1992 where she said, “I’m not a retarded little underage flower who was raped, molested, and spoiled by some evil stepfather — not by a long shot. I’m a psychology major at college who fell for a man who happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Mia. I admit it’s offbeat, but let’s not get hysterical. The tragedy here is that, because of Mia’s vindictiveness, the children must suffer.”
Dylan and Ronan Farrow
Dylan and Ronan Farrow have both released statements contradicting the Soon-Yi piece. Both call out the fact that the writer of the piece, Daphne Merkin, is a self-proclaimed fan of Allen’s and has had a working relationship and friendship with the filmmaker for decades. They also came to their mother’s defence, calling her “devoted” and the creator of a “loving” and “wonderful home.”
On the subject of the alleged sexual abuse, Dylan says, “I continue to be an adult woman making a credible allegation, unchanged for two decades, backed up by evidence.” Ronan adds, “As a journalist, I’m shocked by the lack of care for the facts, the refusal to include eye-witness testimony that would contradict falsehoods in this piece, and the failure to print my sister’s responses. Survivors of abuse deserve better.”
My statement on New York Magazine: pic.twitter.com/xml6pdaZqb
— Dylan Farrow (@RealDylanFarrow) September 17, 2018
Statement on New York magazine, which has done something shameful here: pic.twitter.com/xGeQP341OG
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) September 17, 2018
Several of the other Farrow children also released a joint statement in support of their mother and sister.
I’m grateful to my siblings for standing by me and my mother. Statement from Matthew Previn, Sascha Previn, Fletcher Previn, Daisy Previn, Ronan Farrow, Isaiah Farrow, and Quincy Farrow: pic.twitter.com/aBjWFUJjdH
— Dylan Farrow (@RealDylanFarrow) September 17, 2018
As a proactive response to the inevitable firestorm this feature would start, Merkin stated in the piece that since there are so many conflicting narratives in this soap opera, there will never truly be a conclusion drawn or an agreement on the facts.
“I can’t pretend to know what actually occurred, of course, and neither can anyone other than Allen and Dylan,” she writes, “Even the judge who eventually denied Allen custody of Dylan opined that ‘we will probably never know what happened on August 4, 1992.’ All of life is filled with competing narratives, and the burden of interpretation is ultimately on the listener and his or her subjectively arrived-at sense of the truth.”