In 1991, the country was glued to their TV’s watching the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings where a young, African-American woman law professor out of the University of Oklahoma, Anita Hill, was testifying. She had brought forth claims of sexual harassment against President George H. W. Bush’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas.
Academy Award winning filmmaker Frieda Lee Mock has made a documentary on Anita Hill, a woman that to this day is still feeling the repercussions of her testimony. Anita Hill speaks for the first time at length, in this documentary, about her experiences before, during, and after the hearing. It’s an inside look at one of the most infamous incidents in Washington politics.
Hill served under Thomas at the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), an agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. While there, she claimed to experience numerous incidents of sexual harassment by Thomas. She never filed charges, but she did tell a number of co-workers and friends about the incidents. When Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court, Hill was interviewed by Democrats, looking into Thomas’s past. She sent the Senate committee a statement detailing her claims of harassment, thinking that would be the extent of her involvement in the process. Little did she know that very soon she would be called to testify about the claims of sexual harassment by Thomas in front of not just the Senate Committee but also the nation itself.
Mock uses Hill’s own words to narrate the film, giving us an insight to a woman that became of symbol of strength and power to many women across America that had suffered sexual harassment in the workplace. Mock also uses extensive footage from the nine hours of testimony that Hill gave that day.
We first meet Hill as she is walking into her office at Brandeis University, while an old voice-mail message is played from Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas. The message is asking for Hill to apologize to the nominee and suggests that Hill as alternative motives in bringing the charges to light. We go from that scene to a video clip of Hill testifying in front of the senate, giving them details in very graphic detail.
The film interviews a number of people about Hill’s testimony, including friends, co-workers, family and lawyers brought in to help her get through the testimony. One of the films faults is that it’s a one-sided look. No one is interviewed on camera that defends Thomas’s testimony that he did not do these things, nor are any of the senators that served on the committee. It makes the film seem a little bit of an “attack film” on Thomas and the Republicans in the Senate.
The film does do a good job of capturing what it was like to have a big press event (people watched all nine hours of her testimony on TV) in a time before Twitter, TMZ and cell phone cameras. One of the most amazing things that’s revealed in the film, is how little Hill was prepared for her testimony. She thought she was going to a hearing that would only contain Senators for the Democratic party. What she got instead was a grilling for 9 hours that questioned not only her honesty but her character as well.
The film also does a marvelous job of showing the effects of the testimony of Hill’s life. That she had to leave the state and the University that she loved due to all the publicity and the pressure. In the film she shows 25 file cabinets of mail she has received over the years due to the hearings, some of it good but most are of the death threat variety. We also see that Hill has moved on, becoming a champion of woman’s rights in the workplace and that she is looked on as a role model for young females.
This is an interesting film, but it seems to reflect it’s subject. Like Hill, the film is a little reserved and somewhat hard to know what is happening under the surface, but the film does do a good job showing how much Anita Hill had to go through and also how far we have come as a country in dealing with sexual harassment. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
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“Anita” is playing exclusively at the UA Tara Cinema 4.