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“Anita: Speaking Truth to Power” is a documentary film about Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the confirmation hearings that took place in the US Senate in 1991. Here are some basic facts about it:
** Written, directed, and produced by Freida Lee Mock ** Released on DVD in 2013 ** Run time: 76 minutes
Anita Hill (born 1956) is an African-American lawyer, who graduated from the Law School of Yale University in 1980. In 1981 she served as an advisor to Clarence Thomas, who was at the time Assistant Secretary of the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. In 1982, when Thomas became chairman of the Equal Employment Occupation Commission, she followed him there. She was his assistant until she left the place in 1983. Currently, she is a University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women's and Gender Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Clarence Thomas (born 1948) is an African-American lawyer, who graduated from the Law School of Yale University in 1974. In 1991 he was nominated to fill a seat on the US Supreme Court by President Bush. Anita Hill was called to give evidence at the confirmation hearings held by the Senate. She became a national figure when she stated that Thomas had behaved inappropriately towards her during the time that she had worked for him (1981-1983). The term used was sexual harassment.
Thomas strongly denied all charges against him. He claimed he was innocent. When the hearings ended, his nomination was confirmed by the Senate, but the votes were 52-48, it was a very narrow margin. Today Thomas is still a member of the US Supreme Court. He is regarded as one of the conservative members of the court.
PART ONE This film covers the confirmation hearings that took place in the Senate in 1991 and explores what happened to Anita Hill and to the US community since then. The charges made by Anita Hill were strongly denied by Clarence Thomas. Clearly one of them was not telling the truth. At the time it was described as a classic “she said-he said” situation in which it was difficult to discover the truth.
The hearings had a huge impact on the life of Anita Hill. For better or worse. Overnight, she became a national figure. Some people wrote to her to support her and thank her, while other people told her that she was a liar, a traitor, or something worse than that.
The hearings also had a huge impact on the US community. Sexual harassment became a term what was discussed in public. The number of official complaints increased year by year after the hearings in 1991. Perhaps the hearings can be described as a milestone in the history of gender and race relations in the US.
Some people believe Anita Hill; they think she was the victim of an organised smear campaign. Other people do not believe her. They think she lied in order to promote herself or perhaps she was used by some white interest group, which did not want to see a black man on the Supreme Court.
This film takes a clear stand. The people behind the film believe her. When asked why Anita Hill did what she did, they will say: she did it because it was the truth and because she felt she had to tell the truth about the candidate who had been nominated for a seat on the highest authority in the country.
The film is composed by two elements. (1) Clips from the hearings in 1991 and (2) clips from the present day. The film flips back and forth between the two elements. Anita Hill features prominently in the film which is no surprise since her name is mentioned in the title, but there are also interviews with other people who are connected with the case and/or her life.
Among the witnesses I can mention Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson who are co-authors of a book about the case that was published in 1994 (hardcover) and 1995 (paperback):
. This book was later turned into a television movie with the same title that was shown on US television (Showtime) in 1999.
PART TWO A few years after the hearings, Anita Hill wrote an autobiography that was called
Speaking Truth to Power
. It was published in 1997 (hardcover) and 1998 (paperback).
When Freida Lee Mock made her film about the case, she used the same title for the film, but she added the first name of the main character. This is why the film is called “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power.”
Clarence Thomas also appears in the film, but only in a clip from the hearings in 1991 in which he denies the allegations made against him. He is a very private person, who almost never gives interviews to the press. If director Freida Mock had asked him for an interview, I am sure he would have declined.
However, the film documents very clearly that the events of 1991 are still vividly remembered by Clarence Thomas and his wife. The film opens with a telephone message that Virginia “Ginny” Thomas - wife of Clarence Thomas - left on Anita Hill’s answering machine in October 2010, almost twenty years after the hearings took place. In this message she asks Anita Hill to apologize for what she did to her and her husband back in 1991.
At first Anita Hill thought it was a crank call, but an investigation showed that the message was indeed from Mrs. Thomas. When reporters talked to her about the message, she explained that she wanted to offer an olive branch to Anita Hill. Supporters of Anita Hill would probably think that this was a strange kind of peace offering. But it shows that the case is still very much alive in the 21st century.
PART THREE “Anita” is an important film about an important issue. The people behind the film make a strong case when they argue that Anita Hill told the truth in 1991. If you are not convinced, if you want to see more evidence, I can tell you that there is more evidence than is mentioned in the film, and some of this has been available for several years. Here are a few examples:
# 1. When Anita Hill was testifying in 1991, there were other witnesses who were ready to support her testimony, but they were never called. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the Republicans and the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee made a secret deal not to call any more witnesses. They just wanted the hearings to end: Los Angeles Times, 17 October 1991.
A somewhat similar story appeared in the Washington Post three years later, on 9 October 1994: “The Other Woman” by Florence George Graves. If additional witnesses had been called, and if they had supported the testimony of Anita Hill, the voting might have gone another way. Perhaps the candidate would not have been confirmed.
# 2. Journalist Thomas Brock did everything he could to smear Anita Hill during the hearings in 1991 and later on in a book that was published in 1993. But in 2001, he recanted and apologized to Anita Hill. For details about this change of heart, see the New York Times, 27 June 2001 and Time magazine, 9 July 2001.
# 3. In October 2010, Lilian McEwen, who had dated Thomas in the 1980s, broke her 19-year silence and spoke out about Thomas. She said that what Anita Hill had said about Thomas back in 1991 sounded highly likely. There is an article in the New York Times of 22 October 2010. There is also an interview on CNN: Larry King Live, 26 October 2010.
# 4. Steve Kornacki summarised what we know about the case in an article published in the online magazine Salon on 27 October 2010: “How we know Clarence Thomas did it.”
CONCLUSION “Anita” got some good reviews:
** On IMDb it has a rating of 60 per cent ** On Metacritic it has a rating of 68 per cent ** On Rotten Tomatoes it has a rating of 76 per cent
I understand the positive reviews. I agree with them. “Anita” is an important film about an important issue. I think it deserves a rating of five stars.
PS # 1. For more information about the case, see the following book:
I Still Believe Anita Hill
edited by Amy Richards and Cynthia Greenberg (2013).
PS # 2.
is a television movie about Anita Hill and the confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas. This dramatized version of the story was shown on US television (HBO) and released on DVD in 2016.
5.0 out of 5 starsI strongly recommend this DVD to women of all ages
Reviewed in the United States on 19 July 2014
I remember this trial so vividly. I was so angry at the attitude of so many men in particular. So many non-listeners who had their minds made up ahead of time - just as many men in congress. This DVD is very well done, with the reactions of the actors of the time, and journalists (female). Anita Hill was the classy woman I remember, although one can tell that this trial changed her life. I strongly recommend this DVD to women of all ages, and hope that this DVD will be played for our children, and grand-children, watched together, and explained. Congratulations to the producers of this film.
5.0 out of 5 starsMust see film for anyone who cares about women's rights!
Reviewed in the United States on 13 April 2016
Anita accurately tells the story of Anita Hill, the woman who came forward with charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas. Many of my friends and I were already disappointed with the selection of Thomas to replace civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall, and learning about what happened to Anita Hill sealed the deal. We didn't want him confirmed and we took part in daily protests outside the Senate. Some of my friends appear in the background of the film. This is a must see for every young woman and man who cares about women's rights and civil rights. What happened to Hill was a travesty.
3.0 out of 5 starsGood for historical perspective, but tough to use as a teaching tool
Reviewed in the United States on 15 July 2015
It was an interesting historical review of what happened to Anita Hill, but I wish the filmmakers would have explained more of what might have been going on with her or other victims. In one scene, for example, Anita is being interviewed and one of the panelists says something along the lines of "why didn't you say anything then?" I wish the filmmakers would have included information about "why" victims might NOT say something.
5.0 out of 5 starsI have an all-new appreciation for Anita Hill!
Reviewed in the United States on 5 March 2018
Anita Hill needs a major comeback, and this film helps set the stage. I thought it was very well done, and it's amazing how words and actions from the past have a whole new resonance now. I am recommending this film to all my friends.
5.0 out of 5 starsA good and timely reminder of a bipartisan farce
Reviewed in the United States on 18 July 2014
A good and timely reminder of a bipartisan farce. The unbalanced collection of old white ideologues were oblivious to the obvious. Biden should be perpetually embarrassed for failing or refusing to allow corroborating witnesses to speak on Ms. Hill's behalf. I have had juries dumber than the despicable committee, but not many. If only the services of a crystal ball could have availed. Then even the oblivious committee members could have known the essence of what they enabled. John Dean recently put the impeachability of Thomas into a cogent essay. Google it.