- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
“Hearst Magazines and Verizon Media may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below.”
Scouring the fantasy section of her favorite bookstore near the Connecticut farm where she grew up, Dylan Farrow would pick out anything that “promised me dragons,” she says. She loved the fire and destruction of mythical beasts; conspiracy theories involving families plotting against their own kin; and the way women, children, and other small creatures wielded magical powers that made them stronger in those make-believe worlds than they were in our own. “I think it started out as an escape route,” she says. “For any fans of fantasy, whether they’re in my position or not, it’s fun escapism, a way to step outside of yourself and your problems, and, I don’t know, think about dragons for a while.” She pauses to clarify: “I’m not trying to escape who I am—I’m fine with who I am. I mean, it’s taken me a while to get here, but I can say with [some] degree of certainty that I’m okay.”
Still, the first time we talked, late last year, it hadn’t quite sunk in for her that she had her own debut young adult fantasy fiction novel, Hush, on bookshelves like the ones she’d perused as a teenager. In a lot of ways, the release of Hush has served as a debut for the 35-year-old author as well, in her new life as a full-time writer and working mother, defined by no one but herself. After all, for most of her life, Dylan has been known mostly in relation to the salacious scandals that have swirled around her famous family. She became a public figure not by choice, but rather because she was Mia Farrow’s daughter, or Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ronan Farrow’s sister. “I don’t feel like I have a father,” she says, but at one point her father was Woody Allen, Mia’s boyfriend of about a decade, who’d adopted Dylan as a child. Later, of course, Allen would go on to have an affair with, and then marry, her sister, Soon-Yi Previn. “There’s no support group for people whose sisters marry their fathers,” she says. “Or is he my brother-in-law? And is she my stepmom? I’ve got to joke about it!”
Then there’s the other scandal that she’ll likely never fully escape, now the subject of an HBO investigative documentary series, Allen v. Farrow. In 1992, when Dylan was seven—the same year the Soon-Yi affair blew up—she told her mother that Allen had taken her into an attic crawl space and sexually molested her, as Mia would testify in the ensuing custody battle. It was part of a pattern that Dylan later said went on for as long as she could remember, of Allen getting into bed with her wearing only his underwear, or putting his head in her naked lap. The custody fight was vicious and tore their family apart, estranged Allen from most of his children permanently, and became such a public tabloid spectacle that Dylan remembers having to be sneaked out of the back of her New York City apartment building with a blanket over her head so she could get to school without being snapped by the paparazzi. She still has PTSD from the ordeal.
A report by the Yale-New Haven Hospital Child Sexual Abuse Clinic, whose methods the judge in the custody case questioned as unreliable, concluded that Dylan was not sexually abused and that Dylan was either disturbed and made it up or had been manipulated by her mother. The judge gave Mia full custody, finding that the testimony proved “that Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.” Allen appealed, but the appellate court agreed with the trial judge’s custody ruling. Although it gave more weight to the Yale-New Haven report, the appeals court found that the overall evidence, while “inconclusive,” “suggest[ed] that the abuse did occur.” New York State child welfare investigators later announced that they’d found no credible evidence of abuse. Several months after the custody decision was announced, a Connecticut state’s attorney announced that he had probable cause to criminally charge Allen but was declining to file charges to spare Dylan the trauma of a court appearance. Criminal charges have never been filed against Allen in the matter, and he continues to maintain his innocence. (Allen declined a request to comment for this article, but he has vociferously and repeatedly denied having molested her, and has pointed to investigations that cleared him of wrongdoing.)
If you know Dylan’s name now, though, it’s probably because in 2014, well before the #MeToo movement, she wrote a New York Times essay about that abuse, calling out Hollywood actors and asking whether they’d be so quick to celebrate Allen’s work had their own daughter been “led into an attic” by him. It wasn’t until her brother Ronan helped expose the misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein that Dylan’s accusations were given much credence. Dylan had emerged from obscurity to become a staunch advocate for survivors of sexual assault. But now she’s ready to emerge from that as simply a writer. “Believe it or not, the stuff that I wrote about in that essay does not encompass the entirety of my existence,” she says. “It’s a small part of 35 years of living.”
In fact, Dylan isn’t even Dylan Farrow’s name anymore. When she was eight, she changed it to a name she prefers to keep private, in order to psychologically distance herself from the events of those tumultuous years. But she’s been using Dylan as a sort of pen name, starting with the 2014 essay, to avoid confusion given that Dylan is the name in all the court documents. Among close friends and family, though, she says, “No one’s called me Dylan since I was 10.”
Reading Hush, it’s impossible not to see Dylan’s story in its themes. The book centers on Shae, a girl who is dealing with a lot and doesn’t really have time for boys. She’s “short but strong,” Dylan says, and she’s also doggedly determined to ferret out the truth—even as adults tell her it’s all in her head. The world she’s living in is falling apart, stricken by drought and a pandemic that Dylan swears she dreamed up well before 2020. A despotic leadership class wields magic to spread fake news, earn tithes, and control the populace. The written word, the people are told, will kill them; the pandemic spreads through ink. And it is only in trying to solve the murder of someone she loves that Shae finds out that she, too, can wield magic. But can she learn how to use it fast enough, when the truth is slipping away and she’s being gaslighted by powerful forces, causing her to question what she knows? Dylan says that of course the themes are partially based on her life, but readers shouldn’t try to draw too many direct parallels. “As I keep having to assert,” she says, “I do know the difference between fiction and reality.”
After being awarded custody in 1993, Mia moved her large family, filled with biological and adopted children, many of them with disabilities, from Manhattan to their country house in Connecticut. Mia was determined to give the kids “the real farm experience,” Dylan says. They had horses, chickens, goats, and a cow who got lonely and tried having sex with everything, including one of the Farrow siblings’ wheelchairs. “It was a busy, noisy life full of children and animals,” Mia says.
Dylan now maintains a happy pandemic pod with her own family on that same farm, 88 acres with hiking and horse trails and a lake. She’s calling via Zoom from a home office with nothing but greenery and sunlight outside her window. Dylan, her husband (she asked that his name not be published), her four-year-old daughter Evangeline (whose name is already all over Mia’s Instagram), their pug Luna, and their English bulldog Nova stay in one house. Her brother Fletcher, who works in tech, and his wife and two daughters live in another. Their mother has a third. When we talked, Ronan and his fiancé, Jon Lovett of Pod Save America, had recently joined them from the West Coast and were staying with Mia.
Dylan’s earliest exposure to fantasy, she says, was a bedtime ritual of her mom reading The Hobbit to the kids. “My mom, I sometimes forget, is actually a really talented actress,” she says. “So she would read the bejesus out of this book, and it was the most epic thing I had ever heard. My mom would narrate and do all the voices. To this day, her rendition of Gollum is like canon tome.” At around age 11, Dylan wrote stories to read aloud to her younger siblings. “She kept them so enthralled,” Mia says. Ronan, two years her junior, says they both read a lot growing up. “Great women writers of fantasy loomed large for both of us—Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeleine L’Engle, and Susan Cooper were all a big deal in our house,” he says. “Dylan had an abiding love of anime, which I only dabbled in.” (Dylan says she also had an abiding love of Lance Bass of *NSync.)
“I loved to play make-believe with Ronan,”Dylan says. “We’d play dress-up, and I’d sometimes let him play Barbies with me, if I was feeling charitable.” They collected pewter Dungeons & Dragons figurines and created a civilization for them. “We developed some pretty elaborate lore,” Ronan says. In her teenage years, Dylan wrote and illustrated a Game of Thrones–style novel, clocking in at “530-something” pages, that she says “was not fit for human consumption.” Its audience of one was her little sister, Quincy. There were dragons. The main character was an elf. There was a war. Some of it took place in space. “Every concept and every crazy notion I needed to express got chucked into the pot, and it went in a million directions and it was garbage,” she says. “I mean, my sister loves it to this day. She still talks about it.” Back then, as an author, Dylan felt supremely confident. “If I thought it was bad, I wouldn’t have written 500 pages,” she says, laughing.
The court hearings of Dylan’s childhood were, in many ways, a prosecution of her so-called “overactive” imagination. She’d described being in the attic with the “dead heads”—“which was literally because I didn’t know the word for mannequin,” she says. “I knew that people thought that I was using my imagination to tell lies,” she continues, but somehow that never affected her desire to write. Nor did Allen being a famous writer influence her in any way, “although it’s probably the reason I never wrote about New York and jazz and May–December romances,” she says.
In her senior year at Bard College, where she was majoring in art and Asian studies, Dylan decided to sign up for an online dating site associated with The Onion. This was in 2007, well before Tinder, “when dinosaurs roamed the Earth,” she says. At first, she wasn’t having much luck. “I signed up and there was, like, an influx of fifty-somethings being like, ‘Age ain’t nothing but a number, right?’ ” she says. “I’m like, ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree.’ ” Then she came across this “adorable” recent graduate living in New York City who described himself as a geek. “So I did the thing I’ve never done before or since, and I sent him a message and flirted with the guy,” she says. “I said, ‘You didn’t mention you were a cute geek.’ Winky-face emoji. I’m turning bright red telling you this.”
They met up at Grand Central Terminal and got pie and coffee, and the conversation never stopped flowing. After graduation, she moved in with him in New York. “He tried to kick me out,”she says. “He told me, ‘You’re finally independent. You should have the experience of having your own place, paying your own rent.’ I’m like,‘That’s really responsible of you, but that sounds like a lot of work.’ ” Dylan got a job as a production assistant at CNN, working the phones and the copy machine at the Nancy Grace show, mainly so she could continue to crash with her boyfriend. She was eventually laid off. “Journalism, it turns out, wasn’t for me. Wrong member of my family,” she says. When her boyfriend got a job offer he couldn’t turn down in South Florida and asked her to join him, she agreed. “In the back of my head, I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’d better get an engagement ring out of this,’ ” she says. And she did. They’ve been together for 14 years, married for 10.
Dylan spent the following six years in Broward County, living a relatively normal life. She worked for a weight-loss center, and later found a job as a graphic designer. Back at home, she’d write fantasy stories well into the early hours. “That was where I was finding my happy place,” she says. “I sat down with my husband at one point and I said, ‘Look, I spend every morning sitting in my car giving myself this pep talk, like, Today is going to be over at some point. And I can’t live like this.’ ” She did some soul-searching and realized she wanted to become a full-time writer. “My husband was like, ‘Okay, this is important to you. We’ll make it work.’ He’s a champ.”
So she sat down and wrote a novel. Not Hush, but a “casserole” of ideas. “It was about necromancers, set in a Spanish Inquisition–like setting,” she says. “It was maybe a little anti-religion; they were heretics.” Her protagonist was too old for YA, but the story didn’t exactly work for a broader fantasy audience either. “I wound up learning a lot about, you know, what sort of book gets picked up by publishers,” she says, laughing.
Around 2014, Dylan and her husband decided to move back northeast to Connecticut. Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine had come out to critical praise the previous year, garnering two Golden Globe and three Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay for Allen. The sexual assault allegation, the custody battle, and leaving Manhattan had all happened in 1992 and 1993. Dylan had started fourth grade in Connecticut, thinking she’d never have to worry about any of it again, except for the rare occasions when her mom went to court. “I sort of treated it as out of sight, out of mind, and I did that for about 20 years,” she says. “But then he was up for an Academy Award, and no one cared.
We were in the process of relocating, and I snapped and went crazy and the essay happened.” When she told someone close to her that she was thinking about speaking out, he said, “Well, why? Nobody cares.” When she told her therapist that “maybe this is something, someday, you know, nebulously, abstractly I’m considering,” he told her that it was a terrible idea and she’d undo all the progress she’d made.“Obviously, I didn’t listen to those people,” she says. “The thing is, in a lot of ways, they were wrong. But in a lot of [other] ways, they were right. In 2014, nobody really did give a crap. And I did undo all the progress I’d made.”
The essay caused a stir, but Allen kept his Academy Award nomination, and the star of Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett, won the Oscar for Best Actress. Meanwhile, Dylan had opened Pandora’s box. “I had to develop an entirely new skill set with different coping mechanisms based around having spoken out and the aftermath of that,” she says. “The difference was, I was doing this on my own terms.” She still struggles at times, “but on the whole, it does feel healthier to cope with it on that level rather than just ignore it. I think it’s also more helpful to the people in my life: my husband, my family, my friends. They know what’s going on now. I’m not just freaking out because I saw some random movie poster. There’s a method to the madness.”
Mia can see a huge difference. “She’s evolved from being a shy child to being much more assertive. And a lot of it has to do with coming out with her personal story and feeling less like a victim,” she says. “I do know that as a mother, my job, among other jobs, is and always has been to support her in whatever she needs. I’ve stood by her all these years, and I will continue to do so.”
Dylan has only seen three of Allen’s movies: 1973’s Sleeper (“As a kid, I think it was framed as, ‘Do you want to see Daddy eat a rubber glove?’ and I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’ ”) and two others, Alice and The Purple Rose of Cairo, neither of which Allen appears in onscreen. According to IMDb, Dylan appears in Alice, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and New York Stories, “which is really trippy,” she says, “because I don’t remember being in them.” For her Alice appearance, she visited her mom on set, ran up to hug her and say “hi,” and then ran off. She remembers the moment, but not being filmed. She also remembers being at the circus with two kids who kept putting their Cracker Jack in her popcorn. Years later, when she saw the movie, she realized she was watching herself. “It was weird, like seeing my memory, but with different people,” she says.
Triggers are all around her, and whether they’ll set her off depends on how she is doing emotionally that day. She’ll freeze up if she’s scrolling through a news feed and sees a face with thick glasses, or if she overhears jazz music. In the past, such things could leave her curled up in a fetal position. During a 2018 TV interview with Gayle King, Dylan burst out crying after being shown a recording of Allen denying the allegation. It hasn’t gotten better overnight—“It’s a process,” she says—but Dylan has been steadily improving since speaking out. “I try to take the mindset that I have a 100 percent success rate of getting through every single one of the panic attacks I’ve ever had; none of them have killed me.” In some ways, she says, it’s been a blessing to be Evangeline’s mother in this fraught time, to have to care for a small child and to know she has to hold it together for her. “My top priority is obviously making sure that my daughter is always safe, healthy, and loved,” she says. Asked what she says when others assert that Allen was just acting as a doting father, Dylan replies: “Let him watch your kid.”
It still baffles her when Allen’s fans come after her on Twitter, saying she’s lying. “This is something that I’m literally telling you happened to me. Who are you to say, ‘No, it didn’t’? I was there, you weren’t. Go away.” Still, it’s amazing to her that some people peddle the idea that her mother brainwashed her to believe she was molested and also to have PTSD from it—something she says Mia would have needed “military-grade torture equipment” to pull off. “It’s crazy that for some people, the idea that I was brainwashed is somehow easier to swallow than child sexual abuse,” she says.
Dylan didn’t tell her mother and Ronan that she was going to write the essay until she already knew she was going to publish it. “I kind of wanted to wait until there were no take-backsies before I really discussed it with them, because I wasn’t sure how they were going to react,” she says. It was the first time she’d told Ronan what had happened in detail. “And he started crying, which I didn’t really expect,” she says. “He’s not super sentimental.” Even for Ronan, #MeToo warrior that he is now, there was a period of adjustment, of separating the family desire to put the past behind them with his sister’s need to expose her wounds in order to heal them. They talked often and at length, and in 2016, when Allen’s film Café Society was opening the Cannes Film Festival, Ronan wrote his own essay supporting his sister’s claims for The Hollywood Reporter. It was loud and splashy, and dominated all the press for Allen’s film. And in its own way, it led to Ronan chasing down the stories of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults. “Dylan was absolutely a voice of conscience on this issue,” Ronan said by email. “I learned a lot, watching her come forward with her story, and maintain it consistently, year after year—even when I and others around her weren’t sure it was worth the blowback.”
“Without Ronan’s support, I probably would’ve felt completely adrift,” Dylan says. “He’s one of the most important people in my life.” What she didn’t realize was just how important those conversations would be to her brother and others, through his work.
“I thought he was just, like, calling me. It wasn’t until I read his book that I realized I was actually having this huge impact on him.” It bothered her, though, that her essay from 2014 “was kind of brushed off and ignored or sidelined or outright stomped into the dust,” but when her brother said the exact same thing two years later, suddenly people’s ears perked up. “I got salty at Ronan, because I was like, ‘Do people really need a white man to say the exact same thing to get people to listen?’ ”
So in 2017, in the wake of #MeToo, she wrote a second incendiary essay, this time for the Los Angeles Times, which questioned how all these men could be taken to task, but Woody Allen was still making movies. “[At age seven,] I wasn’t, obviously, given a platform, and I was not in an emotional state to take advantage of a platform. I was literally a child,” she says. “And it’s easy when you are a white man with a considerable amount of clout, power, and wealth to silence a voice like that, pin the blame on my mom, and spin the story for 20-plus years.” The good thing, though, is that Dylan has begun to recognize her own power. “I guess I’m just way more vindictive than anybody gave me credit for,” she says. “And I say that because it’s not entirely a bad thing. Vindictive women can get stuff done.”
In the end, Hush hasn’t been an escape route for Dylan, but rather a way forward out of the darkness that has clouded her existence for so long. After her first novel about the necromancers failed to find a publisher, she decided to start over, “drawing on the themes and ideas that I was seeing percolating in the world around me,” she says. In 2018, as now, fake news and propaganda were hot topics, as was a general distrust of the system. “I never thought I would be writing about a dystopia in a climate where that would feel relatable,” she says. When Mia read it, she saw her daughter in Shae. “I see Dylan’s courage against monstrous thoughts and monstrous people and powerful foes,” she says. “Being disbelieved is part of the assault.” While she says she can’t speak for her daughter, Mia thinks that in writing the book, Dylan was able to reckon with her past in a way that was “bearable,” by creating a story “which is and isn’t about her.”
As of mid-January, Dylan was nearly finished writing the sequel to Hush, with only half of the final chapter and the epilogue to go. She’s found that it’s progressing faster and is more enjoyable this time around, because she no longer has the terror of being a debut novelist who, before this, “was a known quantity for something very specific—and something with a lot of morbid curiosity around it.”
She knows that curiosity will always be there. “I can’t completely disentangle myself from it,” she says. And the publicity for this book has meant a lot of “talking about the thing that I like least in the world. It’s always going to be the elephant in the room.” But no amount of fear can take away the pleasure of holding her book in her hands, and knowing that someone else might happen across it at a bookstore and take it off the shelf. Her simple hope is that “somebody will read it and connect to it and enjoy it and maybe not take it so seriously.”
This story appears in the April 2021 issue of ELLE.
You Might Also Like