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

In an impressive bit of narrative synergy last week, significant judicial decisions in the Manhattan district attorney’s hush-money case against Donald J. 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 — Mr. 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 adult-film star, director, author and resistance stripper to whom Mr. 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 the filmmakers Erin Lee Carr and Sarah Gibson, who have focused their work on women bruised by the legal system, and they see Ms. Daniels’s 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 Ms. Daniels to explore some of the mess and contradiction animating her.

Three years ago, Ms. Carr and Ms. 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. Ms. 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, Ms. Gibson was driving in Los Angeles and heard an NPR segment on the trial of Michael Avenatti, the lawyer Ms. 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,” Ms. 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; Mr. Avenatti is now a resident of federal prison.

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