Film review: Seeing Allred (2018)

Netflix released yesterday the documentary Seeing Allred on Gloria Allred, the high-profile attorney who has been prominent in representing the women who were the victims of odious people like Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. I watched it last night and it was very good. Allred has been a lightning rod for critics, many of whom have accused her of being a publicity-seeking, ambulance-chasing, money grubbing lawyer, exploiting her clients for her own financial benefit and ego.

This film serves as a counter to that narrative, telling the story of her life and why she does what she does. (I wrote last month about the tragic events in her own life as a young woman that started her on the quest to help other abused women.) She comes across as a determined, passionate, indefatigable fighter. What is noteworthy is that throughout her life, she has been on the right side of every civil and human rights issue, fighting for equal rights for women, minorities, and the LGBT community long, long before they became mainstream struggles that others joined. Don Lemon, the CNN anchor whom I have always thought of as a lightweight, appears in this film as a thoughtful observer of Allred and deeply appreciative of her efforts, noting that if it were not for her and people like her, he likely would not today have the job he has.

Her critics say that she uses highly publicized press conferences to try her targets in the court of public opinion rather than in actual courts of law. They may be right in some cases but that is not the whole story. She has won or settled many, many cases in favor of her clients without any publicity. There is also a reason for convening these dramatic press conferences. Many of the crimes committed against her victims, even rape, are covered by statutes of limitations that have expired, making it impossible to bring those cases to court. This was because so many women were either afraid or ashamed to tell their stories when they occurred, even to the people closest to them, and kept them bottled up for years and decades. Thanks to Allred’s press conferences, they now feel emboldened to speak out and tell their stories, knowing that they are not alone and that what happened to them is nothing to be ashamed of. That is why we had over 50 women speak about Cosby drugging and raping them and over a dozen women talk about Trump’s abuse, though many of the events had occurred much earlier.

It may well be that this removal of stigma was what also liberated White House aide Rob Porter’s ex-wives to talk of the abuse they received at his hands that led to his resignation. And now a White House speechwriter David Sorenson has also resigned after allegations of similar abuse against his wife have surfaced. Perhaps people in power may be more hesitant to act in abusive ways if they fear public exposure like the way Allred has does. One can only hope so.

Allred is a long-time supporter of Hillary Clinton and the scene on election night, when her eager anticipation of the first woman president turned to crushing disappointment because of the election of Trump, was hard to watch. But she rebounded, as she always seems to do. She attended the massive Women’s March in Washington DC the day after the inauguration and led a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There she calmly faced down a pair of men who looked like stereotypical Hell’s Angels bikers, wraparound dark glasses and all, who got in her face and gloated about how she would have to live with Trump for the next four years and also deal with the suicides of her depressed gay friends and would one day join them in hell because of their sinfulness. In other words, the two were your typical Trump supporters.

Allred is outspoken and refuses to be intimidated, which serves her in good stead when she is on TV and pitted against some raging right-winger, because she can outshout them if necessary. She is tough. But she is not humorless as can be witnessed when she takes part in the annual Gay Pride parade, riding in a convertible driven by a flamboyant drag queen who is dressed in the identical outfit and the same hairstyle, and the song Gloria blaring out.

One thing that I was surprised to learn in the film is that I had thought she always wore her trademark bright pink jackets but while she clearly favors that color, she sometimes wears other colors too. Another is that Allred is 75 years old. She not only looks a couple of decades younger, she has the energy of young person, traveling all over the country, attending rallies, giving testimony before legislatures, in addition to working all the time on her cases. She shows no signs of slowing down. This is clearly her life, what keeps her going.

Here’s the trailer again.

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