Where were you in October of 1991? More specifically, on October 11, 1991? Do you remember? Really, it’s a day no female, regardless of age, religion or race should ever forget. Or, for that matter, any man.
On October 11, 1991 Anita Hill was called to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee.
But before I tell you why, for those who don’t know, some background. On July 1, 1991, President George H.W. Bush (father) nominated Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court of the United States.
He would be replacing Thurgood Marshall, who was retiring. His (Thomas’s) was a contentious nomination because of his conservative political views, particularly on the issue of abortion.
Anita Hill was a law professor who had worked for Thomas at the United States Department of Education and again at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What she had kept to herself all those years, was the fact he’d allegedly made many, many unwelcome, lurid, graphic, sexual comments to her. However, when the FBI interviewed her she decided, despite all the risks involved, to come forward and tell the truth. She felt she had no choice, given he was being nominated to sit on the Supreme Court.
Right she was. At least I think so.
Despite his confirmation being virtually assured, when the report was leaked to the press, there was no choice but to reopen the hearings. Anita Hill was called to testify. It was all covered by C-Span. I remember being glued to my TV, along with millions of others.
What we all witnessed was a travesty of justice. The all white, all male committee attacked her with a vengeance. Instead of the hearings being about Clarence Thomas’s character, it was Anita Hill’s character that was called into question. It was Anita Hill’s credibility they tried to destroy. Her reputation.
No wonder victims of abuse (mental, physical, emotional, financial, sexual) and rape are afraid to come forward. They’re made out to be the guilty ones most of the time. The fingers are usually pointed at them, their make-up, their clothing, their demeanour. The inference being, they asked for it.
It makes me want to S C R E A M!!! Another story, for another time.
Back to Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. To make a long story short, she got lynched. He got to sit on the Supreme Court, where he is to this very day. Mind-blowing, to be sure. And shameful.
Not a proud moment in the history of the United States, I’ll tell you.
Now, more than twenty years later, the story is back. Out in the open again, in the form of a documentary, “Anita”, by the Oscar-winning director, Freida Mock. It premiered at Sundance in January; and I saw it, this past weekend, at HotDocs in Toronto, where it has three showings.
A clearly much younger Joe Biden (current Vice President of the United States) was the Chair of the Committee; and there’s a few scenes in the film where he just has the meanest expression on his face. He was looking at Anita Hill with absolute contempt, shaking his finger, as he interrogated her. He was just a Senator back then. But his outrageous, rude, condescending behaviour made me cringe, especially as he’s considering running for President in 2016.
Especially when it was, and still is, patently obvious they weren’t looking for the truth. I wonder how he’d feel watching himself. Embarrassed I certainly hope. I’d like to watch him, watching himself in that film. For that matter, I’d like to watch any of them who are still alive watching themselves in that film. Including Clarence Thomas.
Three years in the making, the film tells the story of the hearings and, in particular, the impact on Anita Hill. The personal and professional toll the whole sordid mess took. None of which daunted her. Not even for a minute. Her courage has never faltered. Her demeanour has never been anything but calm and deliberate and grace personified . Her insistence on getting to the truth remains constant. Her dignity was, and is, intact. And the legacy she will leave is monumental.
She put sexual harassment into the spotlight. And we all owe her a huge debt of gratitude.
When she walked on stage for the Q&A, it was to thunderous applause, whistles, cheers and a standing ovation that lasted a long, long time. Which is, apparently, the exact same reception she received at Sundance. Not surprising at all. I have goose bumps even now, as I write this.
If you have a chance to see this film I urge you to do so. It is a must-see. Take your daughters and take your sons. Your nieces, nephews and grandchildren. It is a must-see for them, too.
For that matter, I can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t see it.