SUNDANCE: Seeing Allred Directed by Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain
Published Jan 25, 2018That Sundance overlapped with the first anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration was not lost on its attendees, nor was the festival's timing, smack dab in the middle of #MeToo, #TimesUp and the Women's March. Feminism isn't just a necessary part of social progress — it's on trend. As a result, one can imagine that a documentary about famed feminist activist and lawyer Gloria Allred would be a buzzworthy lightning rod at the fest.
The film follows Allred's admittedly impressive career, from her early work as a college professor through her lifelong pursuit of civil rights. Allred's work with Bill Cosby's accusers is the central narrative framing device, as the film returns to her multiple press conferences while chronologically exploring her rise.
Unfortunately, the film itself is dull and generic. Directors Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain fail to dig any deeper than a surface read of Allred, in part because she's too guarded, and in part because of their narrative choices.
Take, for example, Allred's relationship with her daughter Lisa Bloom. The film suggests Bloom has followed her mother's pursuit of justice for all women with a legal practice of her own, but anyone with a remote interest in pop culture will remember Bloom's name from 2017's biggest sexual misconduct bombshell — when Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct, Bloom was hired to work on his defence team.
In real life, Allred and Bloom had a very public debate about the matter before Bloom resigned from Weinstein's team and attempted to save face by publicly bashing him. In the film, the family's proximity to the Weinstein scandal is explored for all of 30 seconds. Perhaps it was too late to dig into the Weinstein scandal, but the decision to include any mention of it at all feels dismissive.
Further, the doc is sure to demonstrate just how hateful the media has been to Allred, with everyone from The Simpsons to Jimmy Kimmel characterizing her as a shrill, money-grubbing man-hater. It's an interesting element that could have prompted plenty of discussion about the ways our culture has changed — or perhaps not changed — in how we treat our feminist fighters.
Threads like these suggest Seeing Allred could've been a much more engaging and thought-provoking project. Instead, the film is a sleepy and rather generic doc — as if archival Allred footage and facts from her Wiki bio were copied and pasted into a documentary template created by Netflix algorithms. It'll do great with folks who love to participate in #TheResistance, but it's a missed opportunity to have a deeper and more fulfilling conversation about women's rights. (Netflix)