Still Thinking About Anita Hill

It was a slightly out-of-body experience, watching the recent television series “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Part déjà vu, part lurid fascination and horror, it reminded me of watching “Anita,” the 2013 documentary on the law professor Anita Hill’s life during and after her testimony against the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his confirmation hearings. I was a child when Simpson was found not guilty, in 1995, but I remember people I knew celebrating, people who believed that a black man’s triumph against a corrupt and racist justice system was overdue. Even though many of these same people acknowledged that Simpson probably did it, his release was seen as a necessary sacrifice. As an adult, watching “The People v. O. J. Simpson” was enraging. The judgment seemed like a betrayal of women’s bodies and women’s voices. Watching “Anita” was even more maddening: the proceedings were a betrayal not just of women but of a particular kind of black woman who had to navigate the landmines of both gender and race.

Near the end of “Anita,” there is footage of Hill speaking at an event at Hunter College, in 2011. After the speech, a young woman sobs uncontrollably as she asks Hill how she got through her experience. Her emotion is understandable: years later, the mistreatment of Hill is still shocking. In “Confirmation,” a recent HBO film about the Thomas hearings, that treatment was again in plain view on our television sets, making us question how much has changed. Kerry Washington, who played Hill and who was an executive producer on the film, was strikingly understated in the role. In what was a leap from her at-times histrionic character on the TV show “Scandal,” Washington nailed Hill’s reserved, soft-spoken way of speaking and her unobtrusive demeanor. If anything, the performance was too muted. As a viewer, I wanted to see Hill fight more, but what should have really happened, in real life, is that the country and the institutions of power should have fought against her less.

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The Woman Not Called During the Clarence Thomas Hearings

The political theater that put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, and Anita Hill and the issue of sexual harassment in the national conversation happened in 1991, but the recent HBO movie “Confirmation”  rehashed those debates.

Angela Wright Shannon, then known as Angela Wright — or the other woman who accused Thomas of inappropriate words and behavior — got to see herself portrayed by Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson in that film, which she was asked to consult on but chose not to. She heard characters repeat the words of a column she wrote, not for publication but for a writing sample, which was leaked to the office of Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Joseph Biden  and led to a subpoena.

[Related: At Stake in Anita Hill movie: Joe Biden’s Legacy] When I was features editor of The Charlotte Observer in the mid-1990s, Shannon was a reporter on my staff. She had worked for Thomas in the 1980s as director of public affairs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Now 61, she works in Charlotte as a freelance writer, editor and actor and cares for her 50-year-old developmentally delayed and deaf sister, Cheryl. After watching the HBO movie, she decided she still had something to say.

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Anita Hill Taught Us a Lesson That Today’s Obstructionist Republicans Have Forgotten

Although many younger people are discovering the remarkable Anita Hill and that hideous episode in American history for the first time, the story still feels fresh to me, and remains infuriating all these years later.

President Obama has chosen the universally respected Merrick Garland for the seat previously held by Antonin Scalia. There is no question the stakes are as high in this circumstance as they were when Clarence Thomas was nominated. Garland, by any measure, is well within the legal mainstream, respected by people across the ideological spectrum. Scalia, on the other hand, was known for what might politely be called extreme conservatism. Nevertheless, when Garland joins the Court it will alter the ideological balance in a way that last occurred when Thomas replaced Justice Marshall.

The nomination has become an election-year political donnybrook, with Republicans refusing even to hold a hearing, let alone a final vote. Americans aren’t buying what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley are selling, though. Over 500 editorials have been written across the country denouncing their tactics. National polls consistently show that their stubborn, unprincipled, unprecedented obstruction is deeply unpopular and will affect some Senate races.

Some might find it ironic that the person who helped bring Anita Hill into the Clarence Thomas fight is complaining that a nomination has gotten too political.

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‘Confirmation,’ HBO’s new Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill drama, is powerfully relevant today

HBO’s “Confirmation” doesn’t totally overcome the creative shortcomings that are common with biopics. But what it does very effectively is go behind the pageantry of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings.

“Confirmation” stars “Scandal’s” Kerry Washington, who also served as an executive producer, as law professor Anita Hill as she is pulled from her life of academia to testifying in the 1991 confirmation hearings of Thomas, who was nominated to the US Supreme Court by George H.W. Bush. Hill claimed that while working as Thomas’ assistant at two government agencies, he sexually harassed her on several occasions.

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NPR’s Nina Totenberg Recalls Breaking Anita Hill’s Story In 1991

In October 1991, NPR’s Nina Totenberg broke the story of Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. With the HBO movie on the events out this weekend, Totenberg joins us to talk about the events of that fall.

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If Anita Hill’s testimony happened today, what would be different?

Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing will breathe new life in the HBO movie “Confirmation.” Considered by many as the sexual harassment tipping point, Hill’s allegations paved the way for many modern gender discussions. (Nicki DeMarco / The Washington Post)

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Anita Hill on the Thomas hearings, 25 years later: ‘I would do it again’

Twenty-five years ago, Anita Hill testified about sexual harassment from then-nominee Clarence Thomas. Now a new HBO film dramatizes the high-profile political battle that captured the nation’s attention and changed Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Hill joins Gwen Ifill to look back at the case, her experience and how it would have been different today.

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Alone Then, Supported Today: ‘Anita’ Revisits the Clarence Thomas Hearings

With the new documentary “Anita,” the Oscar-winning director Freida Mock (“Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision”) brings a fresh perspective to a somber and awkward chapter of modern American politics: the Senate hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court amid accusations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill.

In the first half of this marvelously structured film, Ms. Mock deftly segues from the hearings to present-day interviews with people who were in that room in 1991, including Ms. Hill, her lawyer and her friends. This gives a sense of an annotated version of familiar words and images. (Among those interviewed are Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, who covered the trial for The Wall Street Journal and wrote, with Jane Mayer, the 1994 book “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.”)

Ms. Mock shows the ways the Senate proceedings quickly collapsed amid racial unease after Mr. Thomas declared that his confirmation was imperiled as a result of a “high-tech lynching.” He was referring to himself and not to Ms. Hill.

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