A Timeline Of Woody Allen's Controversial Relationship With Soon-Yi Previn

In Woody Allen's earlier movies, he played varying iterations of the innocuous nebbish. From the hapless thief of "Take the Money and Run" (1969) to the accidental dictator of "Bananas" (1971), the fundamental dynamic of Allen's early works put him squarely as the butt of the joke, while his female love interests were portrayed as far more sophisticated and intelligent than he could ever hope to be. It's hard to believe that this scrawny neurotic would go on to become one of the most divisive figures in Hollywood. Or is it? 

Over time, Allen's films started to subtly change. The gender dynamics were reversed so that Allen now had the upper hand as his female muse remained naive and in awe of his intellect and wit. The most notable shift came in the form of 1979's "Manhattan," which saw his middle-aged protagonist embark on a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. As some critics argue, life soon imitated life.

In 1992, doubt was cast over perceptions of Allen as harmlessly adorkable when he left his long-term partner Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. And in the post-MeToo era, folks are calling out the director for his allegedly creepy behavior. Subsequently, this has meant that the plethora of actors previously clamoring to work with him (for very little money, no less) wouldn't be caught dead in a Woody Allen film. Let's take a look at where it all started with a timeline of Woody Allen's controversial relationship with Soon-Yi Previn.

1980: Woody Allen meets Soon-Yi Previn for the first time

The Soon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen saga began when the latter started dating Previn's mom, Mia Farrow, in 1980. The couple first met the previous year, shortly after Farrow divorced her husband, acclaimed musician André Previn, with whom she had adopted Soon-Yi. Though Soon-Yi's exact date of birth remains unknown (she was born in South Korea to an impoverished single mother), it's believed that she was born circa October 1970, making her either 9 or 10 when she met Allen for the first time.

The pair did not get along at first. As Previn revealed in an interview with Vulture, she resented her mom bringing another man into her life so soon after her parents' divorce. She also admitted to harboring intense animosity toward Farrow, who allegedly berated her daughter for having a learning disability. As such, she assumed that Allen was equally mean-spirited. "Woody wasn't interested in meeting us children," Previn recalled. "And the feeling was mutual; we weren't interested in meeting him. I hated him because he was with my mother, and I didn't understand why anyone could be with such a nasty, mean person. I thought he must be the same way."

The tensions between Soon-Yi and her mother's boyfriend mounted when she overheard Allen discussing her with Farrow. Allen claimed there was something off about the youngster and suggested she see a therapist. "I hated him before, but I hated him double for saying this," Previn admitted.

1986: Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn start bonding

Although Mia Farrow and Woody Allen were dating and frequently collaborating, they didn't move in together or get married, instead living in apartments across Central Park from each other. Therefore, Allen rarely saw Soon-Yi Previn and her siblings. "He was never any kind of father figure to me. ... He rarely came to our apartment before his own children were born," Previn told Newsweek. "Even then, he never spoke, and the truth is I never cared that much for him." She claimed that Allen was too preoccupied with his work to ever pay any attention to her during those early years.

It wasn't until 1986, when Previn was in 11th grade, that she grew closer to Allen. When Previn broke her ankle during a soccer game, Allen offered to take her to school. "You know, he didn't have to offer," she told Vulture. "I'd never been nice to him really." The two bonded and began attending Knicks games together. This friendly relationship coincided with Previn's intensifying feelings of alienation as she hit puberty; she claimed to Vulture that Farrow neglected to teach her how to use tampons or put on a bra.

During this period, Previn also briefly appeared in "Hannah and her Sisters," which contains references to child molestation (Allen's character claims that "half the country's doing it"). The following year, Allen and Farrow welcomed their son, Satchel (later named Ronan), with the couple growing apart as motherhood supposedly consumed Farrow.

Fall 1991: Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn begin an affair

It remains unclear exactly when Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn began their affair. During court proceedings in 1993, Allen claimed that it began a few days after Christmas 1991. However, in her interview with Vulture, Previn said that it started soon after she enrolled at Drew University that September. Initially, Allen thought that he would be able to keep the affair a secret. "I felt nobody in the world would have any idea," he said in court, as reported by The New York Times.

As Previn revealed to Vulture, it was Allen who initiated the relationship. After watching an Ingmar Bergman film together, Allen was apparently impressed by Previn's analysis of the arthouse director's work and proceeded to kiss her. "I think Woody went after me because at that first basketball game, I turned out to be more interesting and amusing than he thought I'd be," Previn told Vulture. "Mia was always pounding into him what a loser I was."

However, Previn admitted that she never imagined their affair would amount to anything serious, believing that she would meet a man at college and forget all about Allen. Though she acknowledged that the tryst was a betrayal of her mom, she argued that Farrow was so unkind to her that she relished the attention. "Here was a chance for someone showing me affection and being nice to me, so of course I was thrilled and ran for it," she reflected.

January 1992: Mia Farrow finds out about the affair

By 1992, Woody Allen's relationship with Mia Farrow had soured; Allen was ordered to see a therapist due to an apparent unhealthy interest in his adopted daughter, Dylan. Then, Farrow found nude photographs of the then-21-year-old Previn on Allen's mantel. "They were extremely pornographic — really disturbing," family friend Priscilla Gilman told Vanity Fair, continuing, "He definitely picked on the most sheltered person." Though Previn acknowledged that finding the photos must have been distressing for her mother, she insisted that she consented to Allen taking them.

In an unusual move, Farrow didn't break up with Allen after discovering the affair. In fact, she continued to work with him, and the pair completed the film "Husbands and Wives," in which Allen's character embarks on a dalliance with a 21-year-old woman, played by Juliette Lewis. According to Gilman, Farrow didn't want anyone to find out about the photographs because she feared Allen's reputation would be ruined.

Meanwhile, Allen insisted to Farrow that he was not romantically involved with her daughter. "I did witness him begging her to get back together — many times, saying Soon-Yi meant nothing to him, and it was a 'cry for help,' because it was hard after the baby [Ronan] was born," Gilman explained. However, any reconciliation between the couple was made impossible when Farrow was ordered to report Dylan's allegations of abuse to the authorities. Thereafter, the respective relationship dynamics between Allen, Farrow, and Previn would be forever changed.

August 1992: The couple goes public

By August 1992, the child molestation claims against Woody Allen were reported in the press. Around the same time, Allen went public with his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, declaring that he was in love with her. "It's real and happily all true," he said in a statement, as reported by The New York Times. "She's a lovely, intelligent, sensitive woman who has and continues to turn around my life in a wonderfully positive way."

Meanwhile, Previn spoke out against claims that Allen was exploiting a vulnerable young woman. "I'm not a r******d little underage flower who was raped, molested, and spoiled by some evil stepfather — not by a long shot," she told Newsweek. "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."

Writing an op-ed for The New York Times, Allen argued that Farrow fabricated her claims, supposedly motivated by malevolence and jealousy. "After all, I was a 56-year-old man who had never before (or after) been accused of child molestation," he wrote. He claimed that Dylan initially told doctors she hadn't been molested but later changed her story upon instruction from her mother. Additionally, he suggested that Farrow was a hypocrite for dating an aging Frank Sinatra when she was 19, yet opposing his relationship with Previn. The child molestation charges were dropped in 1993 due to prosecutors deeming 7-year-old Dylan too vulnerable to testify.

December 1997: The pair tie the knot

Neither Woody Allen nor Soon-Yi Previn believed their relationship would last. Previn admitted to Vulture that, were it not for the child abuse case and revelations about the nude photographs making their affair public knowledge, she likely would never have stayed with Allen. But the accusations brought them closer together. "We weren't thinking, 'My God, let's get married,'" Allen added. "Our relationship deepened as we went through the barrage of terrible accusations, and the paparazzi forced us to take walks only on my penthouse roof."

Subsequently, in December 1997, they wed in Venice in a ceremony officiated by then-mayor Massimo Cacciari. At the time, Previn was 27 and Allen was 62. According to Allen's spokeswoman, Leslee Dart, the wedding was years in the making: Allen had told Previn that he'd marry her in Venice during a trip to the city six years prior, according to CNN. Not everyone greeted the news with joy. As divorce lawyer Raoul Lionel Felder told The New York Times at the time, ”People seem to have accepted the fact that the two were living together as one more sick relationship in a sick world."

Reflecting on the marriage in an interview with NPR, Allen claimed that the age gap between the couple is the very reason that the relationship (his longest to date) worked. "I was paternal," he said. "She responded to someone paternal. I liked her youth and energy. ... She flourished. It was just a good-luck thing."

April 1999: Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn adopt their first child

In April 1999, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn welcomed their first child, daughter Bechet Dumaine, whom they adopted from China. The adoption raised some eyebrows due to the past child abuse allegations against Allen, but he has insisted he was heavily vetted before being allowed to adopt. "Coming on the heels of the media circus and false accusations, Soon-Yi and I were extra carefully scrutinized by both the adoption agency and adoption courts, and everyone blessed our adoptions," he wrote in his New York Times op-ed.

Previn told Vulture she was initially terrified by the thought of motherhood but claimed that Allen assuaged such anxieties. "So I said to Woody, 'What do you think of her?'" she recalled, "and he said, 'She's just perfect.' And all my fears went out the window." She added that, through her negative experiences with Mia Farrow, she had learned how not to be a mother.

The couple adopted their second daughter, Manzie Tio, in August 2000. After becoming a mom, Previn opted not to work, though she previously volunteered at schools, raising her children in a townhouse on the Upper East Side. "They're two very normal girls," a family friend told The New York Post. "I talk to Woody on the phone all the time, and when the girls were growing up, he'd always be excusing himself to take them to school or go to some parent-teacher conference."

June 2001: Woody Allen makes a now-infamous statement

Despite his highly controversial relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Woody Allen continued to make films with impunity, releasing the panned "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" in 2001. In a sit-down with Time that year, he opened up about how he ended up in the peculiar situation of being married to his ex-girlfriend's young daughter. 

Discussing the idealized egalitarian nature of romantic relationships, Allen conceded that his and Previn's relationship was not equal but suggested that this inequity was to their benefit. He then made a statement that would live in infamy. "The heart wants what it wants," he declared. "There's no logic to those things. You meet someone and you fall in love and that's that." The quote was a reference to poet Emily Dickinson's letter to Mary Bowles, sent in the spring of 1862.

The filmmaker has been widely criticized for this declaration of love. Writing for HuffPost, social worker and family therapist SaraKay Smullens called out Allen for using the quote to seemingly justify his problematic behavior. Likewise, The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott argued that the quote was an apparent attempt to gloss over a highly unusual relationship and instead paint it as inoffensive: "[A]nd what his 56-year-old heart desired was a 21-year-old woman he had known since she was a child. He married her, kept making movies, and the whole business faded into tabloid memory."

September 2013: Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn are spotted hanging out with Jeffrey Epstein

After keeping a low profile for years, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn generated headlines again when they were spotted hanging out with Jeffrey Epstein in New York in 2013, five years after he was convicted of soliciting a 14-year-old child. According to sources who spoke with Page Six, the New Yorkers appeared to be on good terms."[Epstein] was hugging him and talking close to his ear ... [He] had his arm on Woody's shoulder,” the insider said. Speaking to DN, Norwegian filmmaker Håkon Gundersen, who joined Allen and Previn on their walk, claimed that Epstein knew Allen and a number of other movie producers very well.

But the couple's relationship with Epstein appeared to extend beyond casual Big Apple strolls. Christina Engelhardt, who dated Allen in the '70s when she was 16, went on to work with Epstein, whom she described as toxic. "I escaped one monster and ran away from the other," she told the Daily Beast. "Woody is a bad guy."

And during a 2021 appearance on Rob Lowe's "Literally!" podcast, Chelsea Handler revealed that she was invited to a party at Epstein's house years earlier (though she said she didn't actually know who Epstein was) and was seated next to Allen and Previn. "And then I asked Woody Allen how he and Soon-Yi met and that was when I left ... I'm not being rude, they are — by marrying your stepchild," she recalled.

December 2017: Dylan Farrow calls out Hollywood for protecting Woody Allen

The #MeToo movement would lead to a reckoning for Woody Allen as both his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn and alleged abuse of Dylan Farrow returned to the spotlight. Namely, Dylan accused key Hollywood figures of hypocrisy for neglecting to call Allen out in their collective condemnation of industry predators. "Why is it that Harvey Weinstein and other accused celebrities have been cast out by Hollywood, while Allen recently secured a multimillion-dollar distribution deal with Amazon?" she wrote in the Los Angeles Times. Specifically, she named Kate Winslet, Blake Lively, and Greta Gerwig among those who refused to shun Allen.

All the while, Allen was offering his own take on the movement. "I should be the poster boy for the #MeToo movement," he told Argentina's Periodismo Para Todos. "Because I have worked in movies for 50 years. I've worked with hundreds of actresses and not a single one ... ever, ever suggested any kind of impropriety at all." Mounting backlash eventually led to him losing a lucrative Amazon deal.

Previn supported her husband throughout the controversy and insisted he's not comparable to predatory figures in Hollywood. Subsequently, she accused the Farrows of exploiting the #MeToo movement for their own advantage. "[W]hat's happened to Woody is so upsetting, so unjust," she told Vulture. "[Mia] has taken advantage of the #MeToo movement and paraded Dylan as a victim. And a whole new generation is hearing about it when they shouldn't."

September 2018: Soon-Yi speaks to the press for the first time in decades

In September 2018, and for the first time since the scandal broke, Soon-Yi Previn gave her own detailed account of what went down between her and Woody Allen. In her interview with Vulture, she admitted that Allen was responsible for initiating the relationship. "I wasn't the one who went after Woody — where would I get the nerve?" she explained. "He pursued me. ... I felt valued. It's quite flattering for me." She also called out her mother, from whom she remains estranged, claiming that she was in fact the abuser, not Allen. Her brother, Moses, reiterated such accusations.

The interview caused a furor among the Farrow family, with Ronan accusing New York Magazine of approving a hatchet job in a statement. A journalist himself, Ronan condemned the outlet for seemingly omitting facts that would paint Allen as the bad guy and failing to properly address Dylan's accusations of abuse. On Twitter, Dylan also heavily criticized the magazine, noting that the writers failed to mention that prosecutors did find credible evidence to suggest that Allen was guilty of abuse. She also hit back at the notion that her mother had intentionally victimized her.

However, The Mighty argued that Previn shouldn't be judged too harshly because she may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The outlet noted that many of Previn's statements, such as her admission that Allen pursued her, suggest he may have groomed her. 

February 2021: HBO's Allen v. Farrow is released

With the release of HBO documentary "Allen v. Farrow" in 2021, Dylan Farrow was finally able to tell her harrowing story of alleged abuse at the hands of Woody Allen. The documentary painted Allen in a light entirely different from that of the socially inept nebbish struggling to fit into the modern world; rather, he was depicted as deviant and conniving. For instance, there's a moment in which Mia Farrow is chatting with Allen on the phone and asks him if he's recording the conversation. Allen reassures her that he isn't, claiming he doesn't even know how to work a tape recorder, but later confirms to his attorney that he did indeed record the call.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Allen and Previn lambasted the filmmakers, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, whom they accused of propagating one-sided falsehoods. They also said that they were given mere days to respond to the claims. However, Dick and Ziering told the Daily Beast that they had contacted Allen and Previn about taking part in the documentary, but the couple outright refused. "They had plenty of time," Dick said. "We would have loved to have spoken with Woody and loved to have spoken with Soon-Yi, and heard their side and their perspective."

Later, Allen appeared on CBS Sunday Morning to reiterate his stance that Mia had supposedly brainwashed Dylan into genuinely believing that she was abused.

September 2023: Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn defy critics by attending the Venice Film Festival together

The 2023 Venice Film Festival would prove a highly contentious event. Protesters targeted the organizers for inviting a number of problematic filmmakers to the event including Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and Luc Besson. "After almost 25 years, why should we keep on banning [Allen's] films?" festival director Alberto Barbera told The Guardian.

Allen, who was promoting his French-language flick "Coup de Chance," further raised eyebrows when he turned his appearance into a family affair. Though they rarely attend glitzy events together, he and Soon-Yi Previn decided to flip the bird to critics by waltzing the red carpet arm in arm alongside their rarely seen daughters. "I was lucky my whole life, really," Allen declared at a press conference, as People reported. "I had two loving parents, I have good friends. I have a wonderful wife and marriage, two children."

In an interview with Variety at the time, he offered some further hot takes on #MeToo, claiming it has become farcical due to the supposedly wrong people being canceled. "I feel if you're going to be canceled, this is the culture to be canceled by," he said. "I just find that all so silly. I don't think about it. I don't know what it means to be canceled." However, critics argue that, despite his assertion that he hasn't been canceled, Allen will struggle to ever escape the controversy surrounding his decision to marry his ex-girlfriend's daughter.