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Laramie Movie Scope:
Anita: Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking truth to power: The Anita Hill story

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2013) On the 9th of October 2010, Ginny Thomas, the wife of Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, left a recorded message on Anita Hill's voice mail, requesting an apology: "I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day."

Professor Hill initially thought it was a prank phone call. On October 11th, 1991, Anita Hill, then a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, composed entirely of white males, at the request of the chairman, Senator Joseph Biden, after having written a statement alleging improper behavior on the part of Clarence Thomas, then a nominee of President George H.W. Bush to the bench of the US Supreme Court. "They were not interested in hearing from me," she says, but outside pressure from the public and media resulted in her being called to testify.

Twice victimized, in effect being put on trial by the senators instead of taking her allegations seriously, she walked "into a lion's den" where the senators tried to trip her up, embarrass her by asking her to repeatedly go over the details of her testimony - about "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?" and "Long Dong Silver" and porno movies and ugly, dirty, disgusting conversations about large-breasted women having sex with animals - and badgering her to wear her down.

Admitting to the committee that it would have been "more comfortable to remain silent," Ms Hill, poised and calm throughout, with her large family (she was the youngest of 13 children) present in support of her, stated that she felt she had to tell the truth about what had happened back in 1983 at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when she worked for then-chairman Clarence Thomas. Hostile questions came from closed-minded members, such Senator (R-PA) Arlen Specter and Senator (D-AL) Howell Heflin ("Are you a scorned woman? martyr hero?"); Senator Ted Kennedy had his own history of philandering and untruthful stories to mull over as he listened to Anita say: "I would not lie to get attention."

Her credibility assailed, Ms Hill says on camera: "The issue became my character." Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming has admitted recently (according to Tara Culp-Ressler of ThinkProgress) "that he was a 'monster' to Hill back then, but explained it was because he didn't believe her allegations were that serious." Why didn't she file a complaint at the time? The men just didn't get it since they'd never experienced workplace sexual harassment. Rather than file a complaint, which often went unheeded, back then women looked elsewhere for employment.

Questioned about what she expected to gain, Anita Hill adamantly declared she knew the right thing to do was to tell the truth and passed a polygraph test. Who believes Clarence Thomas today? Sexual harassment is about control and power, making a victim vulnerable, rather than sex, director Freida Lee Mock's documentary emphasizes.

Corroborating witnesses for Anita included Judge Susan Hoerchner, John W. Carr ("Why would someone make up this story?"), and Prof Joel Paul ("she paid a big price"), though others were not given a chance to speak. In a brilliant strategic move on October 13th, Clarence Thomas in front of the Judiciary Committee made an absolute, unequivocal denial of all Hill's allegations by saying he'd never had any such conversations, never made inappropriate advances, never sought a social date with her, then turned the tables, by playing his race card - "it's a hi-tech lynching" - refocusing the issue from her gender onto his racial victimization in which he was being assaulted by the Negro stereotypes of the past.

From a journalist's point of view, Jill Abramson comments that the conclusion - truth unknowable in a she-said versus he-said confrontation - was fallacious. Judge Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52-48 in the Senate. When Anita returned to Norman, Oklahoma, she found a new normal: Republicans attempted to get her fired from her tenured position; she received hate mail and bomb threats.

Professor Anita Hill, now teaching law at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, accepts that the high cost to her was worth having the truth emerge. She has file drawers filled with some 25,000 letters of appreciation from both men and women.

After writing her book, Speaking Truth to Power, she took time off from teaching as a public voice for gender inequality, showing the way of honesty, dignity, and courage for other women, that there's something they can do about sexual harassment, thus denying the opposition an assumption of victory.

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Copyright © 2014 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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