Allred at 76: Still fighting, and shrugging off the critics

AP News
Posted: Feb 08, 2018 2:38 PM
Allred at 76: Still fighting, and shrugging off the critics

NEW YORK (AP) — Let's get this out of the way: Gloria Allred is not, nor has she ever been, running for Miss Congeniality.

Over four decades of working for women's rights, especially on behalf of victims of sexual misconduct, Allred hasn't hesitated to say whatever she's felt needed to be said — as loudly or as often as she needed to say it. A heroine to many women, she's also been called an opportunist, a media hound, a publicity seeker, and some unprintable things, too.

And she doesn't care.

"I always say, it's like 'Gone With the Wind' — Frankly, I don't give a damn," Allred said in a recent interview from the Sundance Film Festival last month, where a new documentary about her life, "Seeing Allred," had just screened. "And it's been very disturbing to them," she says of her critics, "that it doesn't deter me at all." Still, she has one wish: "Could they please just come up with something more original?"

Allred is now 76, and it's hardly a stretch to say she's having a pretty good moment. After years of asking the courts — and the public — to believe her clients, the #MeToo movement has launched a culture where that is finally happening. "The waves hit the beach, and then there was a tsunami," she says.

It was, of course, revelations about Harvey Weinstein that sparked the current reckoning, and Allred is representing a number of alleged Weinstein victims, some who have come forward publicly and some who haven't. Also among her clients: Summer Zervos, the former "Apprentice" contestant who says Donald Trump kissed and groped her against her will in 2007. Allred is also known for giving a number of Bill Cosby accusers a public voice when legal remedies were no longer available.

Directors Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman had no idea the flood of sexual misconduct allegations against Cosby were about to surface only months after they started filming ("Seeing Allred" begins streaming on Netflix Friday.) They'd approached her back in 2011 about doing a film, but Allred — and this may surprise her critics — wasn't interested.

The directors say it took a few years to convince her. "They were persistent, and I like persistent women," Allred quips. Says Grossman: "The documentary gods were smiling on us. We were standing there with cameras rolling when this enormous case broke open. It was perfect ... because it's really emblematic of what she's done throughout her career."

The film tracks Allred as she pursues the Cosby allegations, giving more and more women a platform to speak, but also takes a look at her life, from her Philadelphia youth to marriage, divorce, and single motherhood in Los Angeles (her daughter is attorney Lisa Bloom), where she found her calling. One crucial episode many viewers likely haven't heard, unless they read her book, is a harrowing one: In her 20s, Allred was raped at gunpoint while on vacation in Mexico, by a respected doctor.

She didn't come forward. "I thought I wouldn't be believed," she says now. "So when women tell me they fear they won't be believed, I get it." Allred was forced to get a back-alley abortion, from which she nearly died. When she recovered, the hospital nurse said she hoped she'd learned her lesson.

While Allred speaks frankly about the rape, there are some things she won't speak about. The filmmakers, who take mostly a kid-glove approach, try but fail to get her to discuss her second marriage, which also ended in divorce. The film also touches only very briefly on the awkward situation that ensued when Bloom, who also represents harassment victims, served as a Weinstein adviser in the early days of the scandal. Allred clearly didn't approve, but speaks admiringly of her daughter. (Bloom, who also speaks admiringly of her mother in the film, declined to comment for this story.)

The directors, clearly enamored of their subject, try to show her human side, including humorous touches like the wholly impressive number of fitted-waist suit jackets she owns in bold pink or red (her uniform is a power suit, chunky jewelry and a wheeled carry-on.) Or the fact that people constantly confuse her with Barbara Boxer, the former California senator.

It's less amusing to see how many commentators have mocked Allred over the years, often to her face. "Every time some high-profile case breaks out, you jump on television and act like you're God," former NBA star Charles Barkley told her on CNN in 2002, when she criticized Michael Jackson for dangling his baby over a railing. "Why don't you go back to your office ... and shut the hell up?"

Among those who've mocked her are the current president. "I think Gloria would be very, very, very impressed with me," Trump said laughingly to his hosts on TMZ Live in 2012, referring to his male anatomy. (They were discussing a transgender beauty pageant contestant Allred was representing.) Jimmy Kimmel once quipped that Allred was "in league with the devil."

Allred has her admirers too, and among them is another Gloria — Gloria Steinem, who credits Allred with making crucial inroads in changing laws that affect women's lives. "I hate conflict," Steinem reflects in the film. "I think Gloria enjoys conflict." Laurie Levenson, professor at Loyola Law School, notes that movements need both philosophers and soldiers, and Allred is the soldier.

It's a moniker she doesn't dispute. "She sees herself as the person on the battlefield, carrying the wounded women to safety," Grossman says.

Clearly, Allred is not slowing down. "I have to do this," she says simply. Whatever four-letter words come her way, she says, "is a small sacrifice that I can make."

Besides, she adds succinctly: "It's not my problem."