When Gloria Allred was in her early twenties, she was raped by a doctor who took her into a room, pulled out a gun, and told her to take her clothes off. She became pregnant, almost died after getting an abortion, and was so afraid to speak up that she never reported the sexual assault.
40 years later, Allred is the world’s most widely-recognized women’s rights lawyer, and has spent her life representing victims of sexual assault—from Bill Cosby’s accusers to the women who have allegedly been groped by Donald Trump. A new Netflix documentary, Seeing Allred, debuts on February 9 after premiering last month at Sundance; it follows the 76-year-old lawyer over the course of three years, from her home in Los Angeles to the courtroom. “It was exhilarating—sometimes exhausting,” said the film’s executive producer Marta Kauffman, who’s also the co-creator of Friends. “She’s always on the go.”
The film surveys Allred’s career from her early days on daytime talk shows defending feminism in the 1980s and 90s—a time when she was deemed “crazy” on national TV—to protests, court cases and press conferences. Allred’s represented 33 of Cosby’s accusers, three of Trump’s, and Nicole Brown Simpson’s family during O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.
“When the #MeToo movement exploded, Gloria was at the center of that,” said the film’s co-director, Sophie Sartain. “We felt we captured her 40-year career and we positioned her as very much still being in the fight. The stories in this film will keep going. It’s a complete story in itself.” The film also features footage from walking the Women’s March on Washington and legalizing gay marriage in California. “She’s all about justice for women and LGBTQ community, it’s all she cares about,” said co-director Roberta Grossman. “If you’re going to do a film about Gloria, that’s what it’s about.”
Back in the 1980s, Allred fought for child support and equal pay, arguing to keep abortion legal at rallies and battling haters on Sally and Geraldo while men in the audience would boo her in unison. “We felt it was important to put that material in the film because she is a trailblazing feminist attorney,” said Grossman. “That’s what she was fighting against all these years.”
But the documentary takes an unexpected turn when Allred’s daughter Lisa Bloom, who is also an attorney, decides to defend Harvey Weinstein against the women who are accusing him of sexual assault and rape. “Had I been asked by Mr. Weinstein to represent him, I would have declined, because I do not represent individuals accused of sex harassment,” Allred said in a statement. “I only represent those who allege that they are victims of sexual harassment.”
Allred’s long list of high-profile cases includes clients who claim they were sexual assaulted by Michael Jackson, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger, politician Anthony Weiner—a case which caused him to resign—and Sacha Baron Cohen. She’s also defended the Spice Girls' Mel “Scary Spice” Brown after she claimed Eddie Murphy fathered her child; a paternity test resulted in him coughing up child support.
“Allred helps women go from victim to survivor to fighter for change,” said Sartain. “She is doing this for other women and had her own similar journey.” The attention Allred garners because she’s a woman occasionally backfires, too: “Since she is a woman and an icon for the feminist movement and justice, people are extremely hard on her,” said Grossman. “She is an icon for the entire movement. If she was a man, everyone would say ‘good for him.’” In one scene, Summer Zervos, who starred on The Apprentice in 2006 and accused Trump of assaulting her in 2016, tells her story. “Gloria is all about courage and to get women to speak out and speak up,” said Sartain. “That was a pure, emotional example of that.”
But Seeing Allred doesn’t come without controversy, as the lawyer’s critics say that her cases exist for women to cash in on their celebrity accusers—but Sartain states that while Allred takes on many pro bono cases, her work is more than getting money for her clients. “It’s about giving people a voice—so many women who spoke out against Bill Cosby gave other women strength to speak out against Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein,” said Sartain. “It was the wave that the Cosby case began, the earthquake that caused the tsunami.”
Seeing Allred also features an interview with feminist activist Gloria Steinem, who points out that the laws Allred’s helped pass have broken old laws made in a time “when women were viewed as property.” “Allred wants to change laws for women to help get child support, issues around marriage equality and in the current story of sexual abuse and rape,” said Sartain, and a goal of the film was to get people who have experienced sexual assault to speak out. “We would want people to be motivated and inspired to be part of the change,” said Grossman. “Allred has an empowering effect on people, their voice matters and their truth matters to speak out.”
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