Famed women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, an ardent foe of President Trump, might not welcome a comparison to him. But there is one thing they share in common: a mastery of the media.
As witnessed in the Netflix documentary Seeing Allred, now contending for Emmy nominations, when Allred calls a news conference on behalf of a client, reporters never fail to assemble. But filmmakers Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain point to what they say is a key distinction between Trump and Allred.
“I think it’s true that they both know how to use the media to their own ends, but the question is, what is the end?” Grossman tells Deadline. “Gloria is not using the media to call attention to herself—or only to herself insofar as when she accrues power through the media then that gets translated to her clients. She’s doing it in the service of her clients first and the cause second, not for her own aggrandizement. Period.”
Her cause for over 40 years has been to advocate for women and minorities, often in the highest of high-profile cases: representing the family of Nicole Brown Simpson during O.J. Simpson’s murder trial; several women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault; a number of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, and until recently, representing Summer Zervos, the former Celebrity Apprentice contestant who accused the show’s host, Donald Trump, of sexually assaulting her in 2007.
“Women depend on me to be strong, to be fearless,” Allred notes in the film. That observation helps explain her public persona—the moral and legal crusader who boldly confronts the powerful. This uncompromising style has made her a polarizing figure in the culture, and drawn comparisons to Trump’s opponent in 2016: Hillary Clinton.
“As we were filming and the election was being played out at the same time, we had that same sense that the attacks on Hillary were similar to the attacks on Gloria,” Sartain comments. “They’re both very powerful, strong women and that can rub some people the wrong way.”
One of the challenges facing the filmmakers was to penetrate Allred’s armor-plated exterior, a task they concede was not easy.
“It was a process and it took a while for her to trust us,” Sartain admits. “We did interviews with her over the years and she actually did end up revealing a lot to us.”
Allred talks sparingly in the film about her two marriages, both of which ended in divorce. She retained the name Allred after her acrimonious split from second husband Bill Allred in the 1980s. She speaks at somewhat greater length about a chilling incident in the 1960s when, while on vacation in Acapulco, she was raped at gunpoint by a local doctor. The attack resulted in a pregnancy, and in those days before Roe v. Wade, the only way to end it was with an illegal abortion. The procedure almost killed her and while recuperating in a hospital, Allred recalls a nurse telling her, “This will teach you a lesson.”
That experience sheds light on the attorney’s motivations—to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, you might say—but Grossman suggests there are no “hidden keys” to figuring out Allred.
“Gloria is not all that mysterious,” Grossman asserts. “What you see is what you get. She once said to me—because I was having a conversation with her about, could she be a little more forthcoming—and she said, ‘People are always saying, ‘Who’s the real Gloria Allred? Show us the real Gloria Allred!’ And she said, ‘This is the real Gloria Allred. There are not two Gloria Allreds. This is who I am.’”
At age 76, Allred remains a tireless and controversial figure with no shortage of prospective clients who come to her for fierce advocacy and the potential for winning sizable monetary damages in civil cases. According to the film, Allred has secured judgments totaling $250 million.
A 2017 profile in the New Yorker magazine summed up public ambivalence about Allred, noting simultaneously that she “may be the most famous practicing attorney in the United States,” but is sometimes accused of being “an ambulance chaser…more interested in money and media attention than in her clients” (Allred’s law partners maintain their firm never solicit clients).
Grossman and Sartain believe Allred has been misunderstood.
“One of the biggest misperceptions is that she’s humorless. That’s not true. She’s extremely funny. Or that she’s brash. Well, that’s true, but she’s also very warm and loving and a loyal friend and wonderful and considerate of her clients,” Grossman affirms. “Another big misperception is that she’s in it for the money. False. Not true. Not to say that she doesn’t enjoy the fruits of her labor, but she is in it for anything but the money. She’s in it for a pursuit of justice.”
Seeing Allred amounts to a spirited personal defense of someone who has spent a long career defending others.
“I do consider Allred a hero in the sense that she’s a leader in the causes that she fights for,” Sartain says. “She really will never back down, and she’s been consistently consistent in her beliefs and in the fights that she’s chosen to fight.”