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In A New Netflix Documentary, Gloria Allred Looks At Her Career And What's Next

Feb 4, 2018

If you've been following any of the news stories in recent years about famous men behaving horribly, then you've surely seen Gloria Allred. And while stories about sexual misconduct have been making headlines for many months now, Allred has been talking about those issues, filing lawsuits and holding press conferences for four decades.

Her work has summoned the media — even when there is little legal recourse — to allow her clients to publicize their complaints about alleged mistreatment by the likes of Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods and, yes, Donald Trump. That take-no-prisoners attitude toward her targets, combined with a motherly approach toward her clients, has made Allred a hero to many — and something else entirely to others.

Because of her constant presence in the news, you might be tempted to think we know her story, too. But a new documentary out on Netflix this week suggests we really don't. In Seeing Allred, the civil rights attorney tells her story in her own words. It recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Allred spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about sharing her own experiences, her decision to make the documentary and why she does what she does.


Interview Highlights

On why she agreed to do the film

Ultimately, I did talk about why I do what I do — it's because of my own life experience, which is really very similar to what many, many women have suffered. Because I didn't learn about injustices against women in law school or in college, we didn't speak about that. It's because I have a passion for justice and because of what I have suffered that I feel that I can't undo what has happened to me, but I can use that to help others for them to have rights that I didn't feel that I had.

On how she confronted her opponents early on

I used to go on these shows in the '70s and '80s because, you know, the mainstream shows were, for many of them, they were not interested in talking about women's rights. They were more interested in talking about what are the good recipes for women to be making in the kitchen and, you know, what a woman should be wearing when her husband comes home from work at night.

But then there were male-oriented shows that decided that they wanted me to take them on or they wanted to take me on. Men would be hooting at me, but it was a way to be able to speak about women's rights. It was a way for women to say, "Wait a minute. We can speak out. We can confront the sexism, the racism, the misogyny, the homophobia — we can confront all that. We don't have to be afraid." So I would take any venue. Because remember, this was before the Internet, this was before cell phones, and I wanted them to see someone who was not afraid. So that they could then say "You know what? I'm going to not let fear be a weapon that's going to keep me down in my life. I'm going to stand up and say this is wrong."

On publicizing the stories of Bill Cosby's accusers, even if they have no legal recourse

Well, I don't put people in the public eye, my clients decide they would like to have a voice, they would like to be heard. And I'm there to support them. But you're right — many of the accusers have no legal recourse because the statute of limitations, which is the arbitrary time period set by law, had expired. But they wanted their voices to be heard, so I started doing press conferences with them. And we did this for, I don't know, a year or two years, something like that, and reporters kept saying, "What's the end game? What's the end game?"

And I didn't say, because whatever the end game is it's important that these women were empowered and wanted to be heard. Ultimately, of course, he was prosecuted. The criminal trial ended in a deadlock. Now he is going to face a second criminal trial in April. I also have filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Cosby on behalf of one of the accusers, Judy Huth, so all I can say is, no, it's not just about women's voices. Although, had it been only about women's voices, I think that would have been important.

On why she thinks these conversations dominate the news today

Well, because women have found their voice and minorities, and they've done what Mother Jones has said, which is "Don't agonize, organize." And that's a beautiful thing. I think this tsunami is going to continue. I don't see us going backwards — I only see us going forward. And that's so encouraging and so exciting.

NPR's Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the web. Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi produced this interview for broadcast.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you follow news stories about famous men behaving horribly then you've surely seen Gloria Allred. Long before the Me Too movement caught fire, Gloria Allred was talking about these issues, filing lawsuits and holding press conferences to allow her clients to share their stories about alleged mistreatment by the likes of Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods and, yes, Donald Trump. Her take-no-prisoners attitude combined with her motherly approach toward her clients has made Allred a hero to many and something else entirely to others. Because of her constant presence in the news, you might be tempted to think you know her story, but a new documentary out on Netflix this week suggests we actually don't, so it tells Allred's story in her own words.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SEEING ALLRED")

GLORIA ALLRED: I'm so proud of all of the women who have had the courage to speak out. Rich, famous, powerful men have to understand there are rules. There are boundaries. They must respect those boundaries. This has got to end, and it needs to end right now.

MARTIN: The film is called "Seeing Allred," and we reached the woman herself at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where the documentary had its premiere. Allred told me that she was initially hesitant to be the subject of the film, but the filmmakers convinced her that audiences might find inspiration from the stories of her clients as well as her own experience as a survivor of sexual assault.

ALLRED: Ultimately, I did talk about why I do what I do. It's because of my own life experience, which is really very similar to what many, many women have suffered because I didn't learn about injustices against women in law school or in college. We didn't speak about that. It's because I have a passion for justice. And because of what I have suffered, that I feel that I can't undo what has happened to me, but I can use that to help others, for them to have rights that I didn't feel that I had.

MARTIN: You were saying that you didn't learn about these things in law school, but one of the things that was interesting to me is how far back your advocacy in these particular areas goes. In fact, your law partners were interviewed, and they said that you were like that in law school. And also, for example, let me just play this clip from "The Dinah Shore Show" back in 1974. And you looked like you were about 14 but you weren't. But let me just play that clip. OK. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DINAH SHORE SHOW")

DINAH SHORE: Hi, Gloria.

ALLRED: Hi, Dinah.

SHORE: Where are you from?

ALLRED: I'm an attorney in Los Angeles.

SHORE: Oh, welcome. And how would you feel if your husband presented you with a list like that?

ALLRED: Well, Dinah, I think we have a uterus and a brain and they both work. And I think it's very insulting to women.

(APPLAUSE)

SHORE: Listen. I think you ought to be definite about this. Don't just tip-toe around it here.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You know, you can hear the kind of gasp in the audience because you can hear that, for a lot of women, hearing another woman say that was just very shocking because the audience was mostly women. But the film features people literally screaming in your face, like literally inches from your face.

ALLRED: You're talking about opponents? That's right.

MARTIN: Opponents, yes, I'm talking about opponents. But I'm talking about on talk shows going back 30 years, where people - you are literally surrounded by people screaming and hooting and so forth. And you never seemed to get upset or angry or - you know what I mean? And I'm just wondering, how have you been able to do that all these years?

ALLRED: I used to go on these shows in the '70s and the '80s because, you know, the mainstream shows were - for many of them, they were not interested in talking about women's rights. They were more interested in, like, talking about what are the good recipes for women to be making in the kitchen and, you know, what a woman should be wearing when her husband comes home from work at night. But then there were shows that - male-oriented shows that decided that they wanted me to take them on or they wanted to take me on. Men would be hooting at me.

But it was a way to be able to speak about women's rights. It was a way for women to say, wait a minute, we can speak out. We can't confront the sexism, the racism, the misogyny, the homophobia. We can confront all that. We don't have to be afraid. So I would take any venue because remember, this was before the Internet. This is before cellphones. And I wanted them to see someone who was not afraid so that they could then say, you know what? I'm going to not let fear be a weapon that's going to keep me down in my life. I'm going to stand up and say, this is wrong.

MARTIN: Bill Cosby is a throughline through this film. And I think people know now that, you know, once a beloved entertainer and pitch man, he's been accused by more than 50 women now saying that he raped and drugged them over decades. You have publicized - or you have represented a number of these women, but there is no legal recourse for many of them at this point. So that, you know, leads to the question of, like, why do you keep publicizing these stories? Now, your critics suggest it's because you just like the publicity. But if that's not the reason, why do you put people in the public eye when there really is nothing the law can do for them at that point?

ALLRED: Well, I don't put people in the public eye. My clients decide they would like to have a voice. They would like to be heard. And I'm there to support them. But you're right. Many of the accusers have no legal recourse because the statute of limitations, which is the arbitrary time period set by law, had expired. But they wanted their voices to be heard, so I started doing press conferences with them. And we did this for - I don't know - a year, two years, something like that.

And reporters kept saying, what's the endgame? What's the endgame? And I didn't say because whatever the endgame is, it's important that these women were empowered and wanted to be heard. Ultimately, of course, he was prosecuted. The criminal trial ended in a deadlock. Now he is going to face a second criminal trial in April. I also have filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Cosby on behalf of one of the accusers, Judy Huth. So all I can say is no, it's not just about women's voices, although had it been only about women's voices, I think that would have been important.

MARTIN: To that end, though, what do you make of the fact that something that, you know, you've been fighting for so long is now, you know, in the news like every day? I mean, what do you make of that? Why do you think that is?

ALLRED: Well, because women have found their voice and minorities. And they've done what Mother Jones has said, which is don't agonize, organize. And that's a beautiful thing. I think this tsunami is going to continue. I don't see us going backwards. I only see us going forward. And that's so encouraging and so exciting.

MARTIN: That was civil rights attorney Gloria Allred. "Seeing Allred," a new documentary about her life and work, is out on Netflix later this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.