the intimate story of a woman who spoke truth to power.
March 27, 2014 8:21 AM   Subscribe

"Anita", a documentary by director Freida Mock, which opened in New York and Los Angeles last weekend, looks back on the journey of Anita Hill, who famously testified that her former boss and then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Trailer

Slate: “All These Issues Are Still With Us”: It’s pretty clear that Frieda Lee Mock, the director, isn’t trying to win over the “little bit slutty and a little bit nutty” crowd, which still maintains that Hill was a deranged fabulist and attention seeker when she testified to Congress that Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court nominee, sexually harassed her when he was her boss.

HuffPo: Anita Hill: Joe Biden Botched The Clarence Thomas Hearings

The Daily Californian interviews the director: “Anita speaks to a generation that she knows consumes knowledge from media. We wanted you all to know the story and to realize that in the workforce, the military, grad school — is that when harassment happens, you have recourse, and you do speak out. Women kept it quiet, in the old days. What (Hill) did in 1991 was to give voice to the experience of millions of women and men, to inspire them to protect their rights.”
posted by roomthreeseventeen (33 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
From the article:
She recalls how, in the movie, Arizona Sen. Dennis DeConcini, a Democrat, says something to the effect of “ ‘well, when women are harassed, they oughta do this and they oughta do that and they oughta get angry and they oughta raise hell.’ But people can’t tell us how we respond to our own problems. They shouldn’t say ‘because she didn’t act the way I would have acted, it must not be true.’ ” She laughs: “You’re supposed to bang on the table! But had I done what DeConcini said, then I would have been caricatured in a different way.”
What's depressing is that she could also have been talking about every online discussion resulting from a woman reporting harrassment ever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on March 27, 2014 [38 favorites]

Thanks for this. All I really know about this case was from Mark Tushnet, who when I read the first time seemed to make sense, but the more I read the more I realize he is wrong and Hill and her supporters are right.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Hello! This is a thread about a sexual harassment issue! If you could not go from zero-to-snarky in 30 minutes and not make this all immediately personal it would be helpful. Use your "I am trying not to start shit" voice. Ask us if you have questions about this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:04 AM on March 27, 2014 [22 favorites]

I was just thinking about this "trial" (or whatever it was) earlier this week. I was a child when this all first happened, and I only ever heard about Anita Hill from patriarchal southern christian white men. Thanks roomthreeseventeen for posting this, thank you documentarians for making this film, and thanks Anita Hill for standing up for yourself, and by extension, all women of color. I look forward to learning.
posted by DGStieber at 9:10 AM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Has anyone seen the film? I was really happy to see a big documentary about Anita Hill in previews but upon reading this particular review I'm wondering if I'd even want to bother seeing it. The review faults the filmmaker for many things such as not including any context about who Angela Wright was and why she didn't testify. And that the 2nd half of the film lapses into "scrapbook" mode, diluting the films power and potential which was hinted at in its first half. Perhaps I will see the film only to see if I agree. But then I'd just be judging it on documentary filmmaking terms. Curious what the hive mind thinks of the film itself, once they see it.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:23 AM on March 27, 2014

What's depressing is that she could also have been talking about every online discussion resulting from a woman reporting harrassment ever.

Can I favorite this 10 times, for balance?

I remember watching this go from the "Clarence Thomas hearings" to "the trial of Anita Hill." The memory is still upsetting after all these years.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:30 AM on March 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

ReeMonster - that review is interesting, but it seems to me of the style of film criticism that goes, "I did not like the topic of this film. The topic of this film should have been X instead of Y." For example:
Mock's failure to nail down the Thomas case drains the power from the victory-lap scenes of Hill addressing adoring crowds: All these beaming people in those audiences have been convinced. Why wouldn't Mock endeavor to convince her audience, too?
Because that's not what the movie is about? As stated literally one paragraph above?
The film's thesis — that Hill's bravery in speaking out has inspired awareness across America of the perniciousness of sexual harassment
posted by muddgirl at 9:32 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that voice article isn't raising my interest. It just may be that Anita Hill is a perfectly nice person who did something really brave and courageous 23 years ago, but the most fascinating part of her life was Thomas' supreme court nomination.

But then again, the reviewer seems to be reviewing the movie she wants to see (one entirely about the case) rather than the one she actually saw.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:32 AM on March 27, 2014

On preview: what muddgirl said.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:33 AM on March 27, 2014

I remember watching this go from the "Clarence Thomas hearings" to "the trial of Anita Hill." The memory is still upsetting after all these years.

Yes. It's surprising to me how barely under the surface all that upset and fury is - it's not something I've spent daily time thinking about since 1991, but all the recent press about the film has brought it right to the surface and it didn't have far to travel.
posted by rtha at 9:48 AM on March 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Really looking forward to this documentary. I remember the hearings and the firestorm around Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas - and being completely baffled by their differring positions on what happened. The more you listened, the more it became clear that there was no way this was about a misinterpretation of how events unfolded - someone was lying and someone was telling the truth. It was a turning point for me as a naive young man to realized that public figures could be capable of such devasting tactics - and that the stakes could be so high.
posted by helmutdog at 9:50 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Furthermore I think it's understandable that the filmmaker would choose to take it as given that Anita Hill did not lie under oath during the hearings. Strange Justice was published in 1994 for pete's sake.
posted by muddgirl at 9:51 AM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was able to watch the entirety of the hearings back in 1991, having just gone through surgery, so I was home from work under enforced bed rest. I had recently started working in the chemical industry and, as a young woman in a technical field, was starting to see evidence of harassment around me in my new company. Seeing how Ms. Hill was treated during her testimony kicked my awareness into high gear. I have not kept quiet in the intervening years, and I believe she was a big part of the inspiration for my refusal to accept these situations as my lot in life.

I will watch the hell out of this documentary.
posted by blurker at 9:56 AM on March 27, 2014 [15 favorites]

The clarence thomas/anita hill stuff when I was in 7th grade. I was 13, I think.

I remember thinking:

1. Wait. If this happened, how come she waited so long to say it?
2. Is she speaking now because she can actually have something happen (he won't be on the SC)?
3. Why didn't she report it before?

Looking back at it now, I don't have any more facts that back then. But I do often wonder "anita hill goes to bed every night thinking 'that dude who sexually harassed me is now on the supreme court. i hate this country."

I don't know how she's dealing with it. But if the stuff did happen, I am extremely sorry that thomas slipped by and didn't have any action taken against him. Good on Hill for speaking out. I know it made a difference with others and brought the idea of "sexual harassment" at work. I just feel sorry knowing that nothing was done to make her whole again within the law.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:30 AM on March 27, 2014

if the stuff did happen

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on March 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah I don't think there was anyone disputing Hill's account, the defenses I heard of Thomas were not disputing what happened, just that they weren't sexual harassment.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Every African American I've ever spoken to on the subject reserves a special form of contempt for Clarence Thomas. I can't say it's unwarranted. Sexual harassment was just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by evil otto at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, Clarence Thomas makes my teeth hurt.

In case you need a bit of levity, one of the laugh-out-loud lines from Jon Stewart's book, America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy:

"Classroom Activities -- Using felt and yarn, make a hand puppet of Clarence Thomas. Ta-da! You're Antonin Scalia!”

Even better as the audio book, read by the author.
posted by blurker at 10:58 AM on March 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

I do often wonder "anita hill goes to bed every night thinking 'that dude who sexually harassed me is now on the supreme court. i hate this country."

Perhaps she goes to bed proud, thinking I really made a difference.
posted by rada at 11:10 AM on March 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's worth remembering the context of Ginny Thomas' phone call (which opens the documentary) - it wasn't an odd non sequitur, but an attempt to divert attention from the revelation of the Thomases' massive conflict of interest in Citizens United, which should have obligated Clarence to have recused himself from the matter.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:15 AM on March 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

My dad was a loyal Rush Limbaugh listener in the 90s. I still remember with disgust the awful torrent of bilious invective that was hurled at this woman by that fat fuck (Limbaugh, that is) every day for weeks during the course of the hearings.

Anita Hill is a true modern-day American hero.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:22 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember it well, and I'm glad to remember it as I prepare for mediation with my former employer, where I was discriminated against on several bases, and where their response was ugly. I wish I could be anywhere near as calm and centered as she presented herself.

Clarence Thomas has been an abysmal SCOTUS member.

Thank you, Anita Hill, you are a genuine hero.
posted by theora55 at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I saw her interview on Jon Stewart the other day and it reminded me that I think I was 20 when this all went down, but I was working at a pizza place and going to college full time and never really had time to read the news closely. But I remember it as a watershed moment -- I wasn't the most empathetic person, I didn't really think about others, I was a jerky 20 year old and the world revolved around me, but I had to hear so many stories of a "pubic hair on a can of coke" that I started to understand if my own boss was talking about his cock and kept talking about pubic hair I'd be really grossed out (because he was already an annoying person that would talk about that stuff if given the chance), and if I was a woman, it'd be 1,000x worse.

So yeah, Anita Hill is a hero to me, because even in the fog and haze of my stupid young life, it made me start to think about the issues for the first time in my life. Bummer it didn't derail Clarence Thomas' career, he's been an awful member of the court ever since.
posted by mathowie at 12:17 PM on March 27, 2014 [11 favorites]

I look forward to seeing this film and am glad this bit of history will be passed along.

I remember the hearings well - I don't know which bitter pill was the one most difficult to swallow at the time - the way that she was treated or Thomas' successful appointment to the SC.

I had the same feeling of disbelief and sick despair that I had over other instances of injustice like the Bush Gore SC decision, which, hey, hello Clarence! That decision might have gone the same way if it had been someone else, but it really does stick in my craw that he had a vote. He's the creepy gift that keeps on giving. Creepy guy with a creepy wife. To this day, I have trouble looking at him without thinking of pubic hair and coke. Gag.

Over the long term, her legacy has been dignified and important. Who knows how many decades it would have taken for harassment to reach critical mass as an issue if it weren't for her bravery that forced it center stage? I have so much respect and appreciation for her.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:18 PM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember this well. I happened to be out sick from work during the hearings, which meant that I was able to watch the whole horrible thing. Watching all those old white dudes who Just.Did.Not.Get.It. left me incredibly pissed off. Just thinking about it now makes my blood pressure go up.
posted by ambrosia at 12:36 PM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

The guy who coined the nutty/slutty quip David Brock was in the New York Times the other day. He's reformed!
posted by bukvich at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2014

Nthing that my anger about all this is still pretty close to the surface 20+ years later. I'm going to watch this, but I'll need a chill pill or three afterwards based on how pissed off the trailer left me.
posted by immlass at 1:35 PM on March 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you haven't read David Brock's The Republican Noise's worth a read...though parts of it will be dated, since the RWNM is much worse now than it was then, what with the interwebs and all.

Brock, as you may recall, was one of the point men in the anti-Anita Hill campaign (writing for the Weekly Standard, as I recall... I think he came up with the "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty" line...) From his soul-searching about how he turned into a right-wing hit man (unsurprisingly: basically driven temporarily insane and to the other end of the spectrum by the extreme, aggressive, left-wing dogmatism that he encountered at Berkeley as an undergrad) to his account of finally crawling out of the right-wing fever swamps, the thing is interesting. (He was basically excommunicated from said fever swamps when his manuscript on HRC was insufficiently critical of her.)

The guy comes across as genuinely thoughtful and tortured by his past--I suppose he could be faking it, but if so, he faked it to the extent of founding Media Matters...

Incidentally, he points out that he's wondered whether he ought to give the money he made from The Real Anita Hill to Hill... But...well...he apparently never did. I guess his remorse has its limits...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 3:29 PM on March 27, 2014

I'll need opiates and hard liquor to get through this, the anger is still so intense even after all these years.

I also seem to recall that these hearings happened right around the time Freddie Mercury died. It was a bad fucking time.
posted by scody at 4:07 PM on March 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

I saw it today. One of the good things is that it shows at least one of her male friends literally having her back as he sat behind her at the hearings. There's footage of him pointing out that this could be his wife or mother or daughter.
posted by brujita at 5:19 PM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The hearings were held a month into my freshman year of college. I didn't have a TV in my dorm (and was honestly somewhat indifferent about current news at that particular time, what with a marvelous strange new world of college to navigate.) So, I knew it largely on a very superficial "this is in the headlines" basis. I definitely didn't have strong opinions on the details of the case itself, though I remember being highly skeptical of Thomas's side of events from what I heard.

I do remember being struck that the Senate was allowing such nasty treatment of Hill to go on and on. Not surprised that they tried to undermine her testimony along sexist tropes, but I was expecting them to have to abide by...I dunno, more formal rules of decorum and lawyerly formality or something? Was this really normal? In light of that, I didn't know quite how to read Hill's unruffled demeanor at the time. I didn't put together until later how hard they were trying to humiliate her, how much her race was a factor, and how that put her between a rock and a hard place in the court of public opinion.

I absolutely recall the hideously vile jabbering about Hill on talk radio, and how those sentiments got echoed and riffed on and popularized so effectively among the public for years and years afterward. How sexual harassment and hostile workplace accusations were mocked with a derisive sneer and look how far that got Anita Hill, women are hysterical or liars amirite?
posted by desuetude at 6:32 PM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

A couple of recent pieces on Thomas: Clarence Thomas’s Disgraceful Silence

Who Cares About Clarence Thomas's Silence?
posted by homunculus at 7:03 PM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

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