It may not seem initially appealing to watch Seeing Allred (directed by Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain), which can’t help but come off as a self promoting commercial for its subject, crusading attorney Gloria Allred. This reaction is reasonable but also more than a little ironic, as a main theme of the film is pointing out how Allred is wrongfully scrutinized for being some hot shot, self promoting lawyer who has little empathy for the victims she represents. The Gloria Allred we spend time with in this movie is a legit feminist crusader who tangibly contributes to getting justice for victims of sexual assault and rape. Seeing Allred asks the audience why the kneejerk reaction to outspoken, powerful women is so often disdain. One might think, as the filmmakers clearly do, that this is a question that is especially pertinent in Donald Trump’s “United” States.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton. It would be incredibly hard to deny that fact. By the same token, it would be equally difficult to deny that there was a misogynistic element to the discourse surrounding the 2016 Presidential debate and Clinton’s candidacy in particular. I mean, how could there not be when the main Republican candidate and eventual President-Elect is a multiply accused rapist/sexual assaulter who proudly brags that he grabs women “by the pussy”. In terms of public perception, Allred and Clinton are very much cut from the same cloth. Allred is clearly ambitious and has a distinctive personal brand, as we see when she grabs a pink pant suit from a closet full of them near the beginning of the movie. These traits are frustratingly thrown in her face again and again by critics to undermine the legitimately important work she does as an advocate for the victims of Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and others.
As with any good feminist text, Seeing Allred interweaves the personal with the political. Allred discusses her survival of rape with candor and the film is used as a platform for the survivors that Allred represents. A great part of the movie is getting a chance to know the women behind the famous accusations of people like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. It’s telling that, even in the most widely publicized sexual assault cases, the public is often content not to know anything about the women involved. Seeing Allred rectifies this and (like Allred herself) puts the women in these much talked about stories front and center. This material can’t help but be emotional important, as the movie focuses on the way women in general are often perceived as dishonest and manipulative when they are in the spotlight and talking about women’s issues. Allred and the women that she represents come up against substantial scrutiny and watching them overcome that scrutiny fills you with the classic feminist cocktail of cynicism and hope that should be familiar to anyone who pays attention to gender relations in North America.
Allred has been so prolific that Grossman and Sartain can essentially track the progress of the American women’s rights movement through her career. It is compelling stuff and it is consistently interesting to see how much the discourse has evolved but at the same time, how much it really hasn’t. When the film takes the viewer back to Trump’s election, it perfectly captures the sense of total disappointment and the feeling of sheer unbelievability that came with incredulously staring at the television. Fortunately, Seeing Allred also gets the audience fired up to continue the fight and, as far as I’m concerned, that makes the film vital and necessary viewing in 2018.