top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘Stormy’ Reveals the Flawed Feminist Icon Looming Over Trump’s Trial

“Stormy,” which is streaming on Peacock, comes to us from filmmakers Erin Lee Carr and Sarah Gibson, who have focused their work on women bruised by the legal system, and they see Daniels’ story unfolding in that same tradition.

By Ginia Bellafante

In an impressive bit of narrative synergy last week, significant judicial decisions in the Manhattan district attorney’s hush-money case against Donald Trump coincided with the premiere of a documentary, “Stormy,” about the woman at the center of it all. Hours before the film was screened at 3 Dollar Bill, a Brooklyn nightclub, a state court judge ruled that the prosecution’s star witness — Trump’s long-ago fixer and eventual turncoat Michael Cohen — could testify at the upcoming trial despite the former president’s objections.

The court granted the same permission to Stormy Daniels, the porn actor, director, author and resistance stripper to whom Trump, according to the 34-count indictment against him, funneled $130,000 to keep secret a sexual encounter between them.

“Stormy,” which is streaming on Peacock, comes to us from filmmakers Erin Lee Carr and Sarah Gibson, who have focused their work on women bruised by the legal system, and they see Daniels’ story unfolding in that same tradition. Whether viewers will too turns out to depend on more than the revulsion so many Americans feel for the former president — a testament to filmmakers who see beyond their own obvious sympathies and beyond the narrative of ad hoc feminist heroism that has built up around Daniels to explore some of the mess and contradiction animating her.

Three years ago, Carr and Gibson made “Britney vs. Spears,” a documentary about the financial and psychological manipulation the pop singer had suffered at the hands of exploitive men in and out of her family. Gibson got to know her next subject when they worked together on a comedy show for a hedge fund’s Christmas party five years ago and remained in touch through text. One day, Gibson was driving in Los Angeles and heard an NPR segment on the trial of Michael Avenatti, the lawyer Daniels hired with a $100 retainer who stole two installments of her book advance, totaling close to $300,000.

“He was making her seem crazy,” Gibson told me recently. “He was trying to say that she misremembered where she put the money. It reminded me of the Britney stuff.” The familiar trick of casting female rebellion as mental instability inspired her to make a film that eventually attracted the interest of Judd Apatow, who became the executive producer.

The main difference, of course, is that Britney Spears had been under involuntary conservatorship for more than a decade and had been deemed mentally unwell as a legal matter. Her father was never charged with any crime; Avenatti is now a resident of federal prison.

Daniels says she wound up in bed with Donald Trump at a 2006 charity golf tournament. He was starring in “The Apprentice,” and she thought she might get a shot at appearing on it. The interlude was, by her account, consensual. Long after, she signed a nondisclosure agreement promising not to talk about it in exchange for a sum of money that was meaningful to her at the time but would come to seem like a cheap price for her silence. Trump has consistently denied having had a sexual encounter with Daniels and paying her hush money.

The past several years, as the film details, have left her in an extended state of turmoil, mostly because of the harassment she has suffered from online trolls who scream their distaste for her in the most vile, misogynistic and threatening language. She has feared for her daughter’s safety; the marriage to the father of her child fell apart. At the same time, she has been buried in court documents — “a fire hazard in my house and in my brain,” as she puts it in the film. Two years ago, she lost a defamation suit against Trump that left her owing him hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

If Daniels is a victim of anything it is less convincingly a legal system that has failed her “in every single way,” as she insists in the documentary, than an upbringing marked by poverty, abuse and neglect. You are unlikely to find yourself in a Lake Tahoe hotel room spanking a 60-year-old reality television personality with a copy of Forbes, and talking about a career level-up — as she vividly claimed in a “60 Minutes” interview — when you come from a home with two loving, ever-present, say, middle-manager parents. Daniels’ father left when she was young, and her mother, according to a childhood friend interviewed in the film, was out drinking all the time “or worse.” A neighbor molested her when she was 9, Daniels reports in an especially affecting moment in the film, and no one protected or even believed her.

Daniels spends a lot of time lamenting long absences from her daughter when it is not always clear why she really needs to be away. At the end of the film, she is seen in a hotel room crying as she reads texts from her ex-husband telling her how wonderfully their daughter is doing in school. She had been doing the talk-show circuit in England. Was there a moral obligation to sit for an interview with Piers Morgan?

The ex, Glendon Crain, whom Daniels encouraged the filmmakers to interview, says he had wished at one point that they could take off to Cuba with their child and the dog and run away from all the ugliness. Daniels doesn’t seem inclined to do this. Instead, as he explains, she left him at home with their daughter while she embarked on “a strip club tour of North America.” He could not bring himself “to see the justification in any of it.”

“I hate saying that,” he admits, “because she is a great person.”

32 views0 comments


bottom of page