Kerry Washington (Credit: Frank Masi/courtesy of HBO)
Twenty-five years ago the country, if not the world, were flung into a crash course on sexual harassment. A staffer’s call to a legal professor in Oklahoma ignited a fire that has yet to be extinguished. That professor was of course Anita F. Hill and that call asked her if she knew anything about her former boss Clarence Thomas that should be known before his confirmation hearing to join the U.S. Supreme Court. What came next is still hotly debated and is now a dramatized movie on HBO starring Kerry Washington as Hill, Wendell Pierce as Thomas and Greg Kinnear as then-Senator Joe Biden sporting an excellent accent.
Confirmationdives right into the intrigue and suspense of how does the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee handle the discovery that a number of young women claim to have been harassed by Thomas. Considering that we know the outcome of the hearings as Justice Thomas just asked his first question in a decade from the Supreme Court bench, the movie still had me at the edge of my seat. The movie focuses on the time when Anita Hill is brought into the confirmation process, Thomas’ reaction and how the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee handles the entire situation. I found myself cheering on Biden, then screaming at the screen later into the hearings.
Among the many heart wrenching scenes, the one that broke was when Hill had to sit down and not just inform her parents of what Thomas did to her, but also prepare them for the onslaught of attacks. Thomas is portrayed as angry and aloof. At one point he refuses to even watch Hill’s testimony on TV despite, as his wife points out, he will be questioned about her accusations. The movie is almost stolen from Washington’s excellent portrayal of Hill by the dance Senate staffers Carolyn Hart (Senator Biden) and Ricki Seidman (Senator Kennedy), engage in to attempt to ensure Hill gets a fair hearing.
I was in high school when the confirmation hearings occurred. When I saw her speak a few years ago at a luncheon in Chicago, I was reminded of her bravery. I was reminded of how she gave me language for what I was experiencing in school. She remarked how she knows this is her legacy - she taught us what sexual harassment was and how to speak up about it. Watching this movie you are reminded of the price Hill paid, especially at the time, to make sure the Senate knew everything possible about Thomas before voting on his lifetime appointment to the court.