Anyone who has followed the Bill Cosby sexual-assault allegations must feel as if there’s not much more to learn, amid a steady drip of women who have come forward, culminating with the 35 featured in New York magazine. Still, it’s bracing to see the accusers — more than a dozen of them — calmly tell their stories on camera, as they do in the A&E special “Cosby: The Women Speak.” The one-hour production slowly builds a compelling case, as the women lay out details of what they say happened, without being flanked by attorney Gloria Allred or a bank of microphones.
Cosby’s defenders (seemingly a dwindling contingent) have often suggested that this is a money grab, directed at one of the world’s wealthiest entertainers. But that argument feels weakened by the weight of actually seeing so many women explain not only how they were victimized but why they didn’t come forward at the time. As one recalls thinking, given the star’s squeaky-clean, Madison Avenue-endorsed image, “Who’s going to believe me?”
Produced by Lincoln Square Prods., an entertainment-oriented subdivision of ABC News, “The Women Speak” goes through these cases in chronological order, while documenting where Cosby was in his career at that moment — first as a breakthrough comic and Emmy-winning star of “I Spy” (hailed by Variety as “Television’s Jackie Robinson”) and later as the star/producer of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and eventually “The Cosby Show.”
The stories, moreover, gain strength as one piles upon another, echoing feelings of surprise, betrayal and confusion, as well as a sense of resignation. The women hold up pictures of their younger selves, the versions that Cosby allegedly preyed upon, usually with promises to develop or mentor their careers.
“I buried it, locked it up, moved on with my life,” one says, while another, publicist Joan Tarshis, asks simply, “Why would I lie?”
Cosby is not interviewed for the special, but there is footage of him expressing his dismay at the charges, and sidestepping the question during an AP interview. There are also clips of the star speaking out about teen pregnancy and advocating the need for greater personal responsibility in the African-American community — the sort of comments that prompted comic Hannibal Buress to peg him as a hypocrite and help revive these allegations.
“Cosby: The Women Speak” is the first of four specials Lincoln Square is producing for A&E, and it’s certainly an attention-grabbing topic. As the project notes, the statute of limitations provides a shield in most of these cases, but the court of public opinion already seems to have rendered a verdict. And while an hour is hardly enough time to fully do this story justice, as constructed it’s nevertheless a sobering account that helps humanize these women beyond just the label “accuser.”