Channel24 correspondent Rozanne Els attended a sneak peek press screening of the documentary Seeing Allred in New York where Gloria Allred and the directors talked about the film.
New York - In the opening sequence of Seeing Allred, the documentary subject, verocious women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred, says this: “There is a war on woman. It’s real.”
For a while it seems like an unnecessary add-on as the #MeToo movement becomes stronger and more emboldened; as if this voice-over clip was only included for dramatic effect. We know this by now, right? But by film’s end it’s depressingly clear why it needs to be spelled out over and over – and over and over – again.
More than 40 years after Allred started fighting for women’s rights in the US, including representing more than 30 women who allege they are victims of sexual assault by Bill Cosby, injustices like sexual assault and wage inequality still prevail.
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Allred often leads these fights from behind a microphone, a prepared speech in her hand and a box of tissues within reach for the victim(s) that sit beside her. Some people say she’s grandstanding and doing it all for the money (most of her high-profile cases are actually pro bono). Some label her a liar. Some predict trouble wherever Gloria and her brilliantly bright collection of power suits go.
On screen Allred doesn’t seem as tiny as she really is in person. Her physique belies her big voice, big persona and big opinions that she talks about after a sneak peek screening of the Netflix documentary in downtown New York.
It took directors Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain two full years to convince her to do the project, she says. “Finally we decided we would do it, and then the Bill Cosby story broke, and we went from there.” Filming also started before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke late last year and many others in the entertainment industry were outed for predatory and abusive behaviour. Allred now describes it as an "amazing convergence of events."
Seeing Allred has the inevitable pitfalls of any documentary that zooms in on a high-profile person. The filmmakers, who followed her for three years, don’t frequently push her on the hard stuff and when they do you get the sense that she wasn’t the easiest interview subject.
“Well, no,” she says. “Not personally because I’m a person who prefers to talk about issues. I’m not that comfortable talking about myself. I care about issues and I feel that if I'm taking space for myself I'm not talking about the important issues that really matter to most people. But finally, they said to me, 'Look, people have to understand why you do what you do. Why you are so committed to it. Why you have a passion for justice.' And of course, it's because of my own life experience."
HARROWING PERSONAL TRAUMA
That experience is not just from her work over the past four decades – 76-year-old Allred has weathered harrowing trauma. In one of the sit-down interviews with Allred for the film, she tells Sartain and Grossman of a doctor who raped her at gunpoint when she was 25. “Was that the most challenging thing you’ve ever faced?” they want to know. She remains composed, but her body stiffens. The answer is no. After the rape, Allred became pregnant. An illegal abortion nearly killed her, forcing her to go to hospital, where a nurse told her, “This will teach you a lesson.”
We see people in the film who are dismissive of Gloria, make jokes about her and frankly, just straight-up disrespect her. Many of them, Allred says with a wry smile and to the delight of the audience, have become her clients. "And they have said, 'Oh, we're so sorry that we said what we said about you. We need you. I need you. Will you forgive me?' And I say, 'Of course!' because really it's not about their politics, it's about whether I'm able to help them."
More than once she says: "If they're calling me names, I feel I've won. If they had a good argument against what I was saying they would give it.” She shifts forward in her chair and speaks directly to the audience when she says this.
When the subject shifts to the #MeToo movement, Allred says she calls it “the year of empowerment of women, the refusal to be silenced, the refusal to allow fear to be a weapon that continues to keep women and minorities subordinated. I know of many more names that have not been made public for many reasons. It's a process, nothing comes quickly except the internet. But in life, we just have to keep pushing. Push that rock up the hill.”
Her hope is that the documentary will inspire and empower people to seek change, speak their truth to power and take action. "We all know now how much we have at stake.”
Seeing Allred is available on Netflix and has been translated into 25 languages and distributed to 120 countries.