Anita - A documentary of Anita Hill

Jane Hoffman


Awkward and offensive.  The words and testimony of Anita Hill trailed through the echoed sound-trapped chamber of the ancient building beyond the microphone while her soft doe-like eyes resounded a brazen tale of workplace inappropriateness that ranged from descriptive male parts to the mention of misplaced pubic hair.  The documentary “Anita” written, produced and directed by Freida Mock was vacuum packed contents revealing pressure stoked Senate Judiciary confirmation proceedings  to investigate the true character of Clarence Thomas, a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, hand-picked by George H.W. Bush in 1991.  The clash of the farm raised youngest girl of 13 from Oklahoma with respective Southern Baptist manners to the nostril flaring commanding presence of Clarence Thomas was a study in contrasts in itself.  The documentary opened with a fire of questions Anita Hill was submitted to by a conservative crop of Senate members who had the gender equality bent of a rusty rake.  Anita Hill was submitting testimony out in the open about her experience as a subordinate employee under Clarence Thomas in the Department of Education and the EEOC where they both worked.  There was an FBI leak to the public about her allegations against Mr. Thomas in the workplace and it landed her in the spotlight under stinging lights to a body of aging white men, all elected officials.  She was sincere about her purpose to present Clarence Thomas as a person who had blotted morality to the point where his judgment may be impaired to undertake the most prestigious level of court decision making in the country.    Professor Charles Ogletree, a Black lawyer who was the lead attorney at the Harvard School of Law decided to stand by Professor Hill as there were no men of her own race who would.  After all, she was damaging the potential reputation of the first male Black nominee to the highest court in the land.  Many of her colleagues tried to sway her not to testify.  Ogletree stated “She’s been sexually harassed most of her professional life and she had to keep it a secret like so many women.”  That didn’t stop Howell Heflin, Democratic Senator from Alabama to ask “Are you a scorned woman?  Do you have a martyr complex?”  Those searing words fell upon the audience like a ton of stonewalled bricks.  Anita Hill’s perplexed glaze at the body of men who were both invoking and questioning her practically put her in a paralyzed position.  That, coupled with the presence of senators like Alan Simpson of Wyoming who cross examined her like a defendant, asking how she dared to follow Clarence Thomas to the next government assignment after he had treated her so badly.  He said, “I have papers sent to me from all over the country in the form of letters and faxes, even from Tulsa from her classmates saying ‘Watch out for Anita Hill.’”    The movie started out with that raw testimony and descriptions like Long Dong Silver and the size of Thomas’ self proclaimed penis as he tried to lure Anita into his sexual orbit.  A breach she may have made was not reporting it as they were both civil rights appointees to protect similar cases of age, race, gender and other categorical discrimination situations.  The film director Freida Mock took edited chunks of interviews one on one with Hill twenty years later to fill in the pieces of her life and demeanor that was not necessarily to be public in scope or revealed at the time.  Anita Hill was a private person in the rural sense she grew up in.  She was teaching contracts at the University of Oklahoma in Norman by the time the legacy of Clarence Thomas brought her in the limelight.  The move unraveled her life from a back aging process.  The closer to the end of the film, the more we learned about her childhood.  Her family is close.  She has a white boyfriend currently.  It showed Anita giving a tour of the family childhood farm.  Her mamma called her stubborn and it showed excerpts of her attending her niece’s wedding in an Oklahoma Southern Baptist church.  The back reel process was similar to the life of Benjamin Button.  The legacy of the conflict between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas which was a private matter that became public was representative of more than one kind of struggle.  It was the open sore that launched the whole movement for companies to have sexual harassment policies established in the workplace.  It was a Black on Black miscarriage of justice in that it was a Black woman going public against an accomplished Black male who had worked hard to overcome barriers to achieve his own success.  There was an aura during the Senate Judiciary Committee that when Clarence Thomas spoke, the room was silent and the male committee members were attentive.  When Thomas unleashed his assault and shaming finger pointing at the Senate members saying that history has played out those old metaphors of a Black man bragging about his sexual prowl-ness which ultimately led to a high tech lynching on his character because that is exactly what the system would produce: an undermining of a successful Black man.  John W. Carr, a retired Black partner of Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett, stated “ What about the legal lynching of Black women? Thomas was groomed by the White House.  He was part of the establishment if not the establishment himself.  He was one step down from the President.“  Jill Abramson, the Executive editor of the New York Times said, “It was no longer the sexual harassment of Anita Hill but the racial victimization of Clarence Thomas.”  Abramson said “Senator Alan Simpson left it open by stating the truth is unknowable, we may never know who was told the truth and then reduced it to a he said, she said game.”    When Anita Hill flew back to Oklahoma, she was greeted by hundreds of supporters.  She said “Despite the high cost involved, it is worth having the truth emerge.”  A few days later when Clarence Thomas was elected to the U.S. Supreme Court by 52-48, she was interviewed outside her home.  She refused to comment on his victory but stated,  “This is an important dialogue and it should not end here.”  After receiving death threats, bomb threats, attempts by Republicans to dismantle her tenure at the University of Oklahoma and more, she eventually transferred to Brandeis University in Massachusetts where she taught women studies and public policy.  She has always spoken protectively and highly of her students.  Teaching was her model of perfection and utmost pursuit.  While speaking around the country and having honorary engagements in her name, gender equality has gone from a movement to an institutional thought line due to one woman’s bravery.  In a time when sexual harassment was not even a household name, Anita Hill opened the door for Americans to face themselves and their actions in the workforce.  Sexual harassment claims rose an average of 5,000 a year between 1991 when she gave her testimony to 1996.   Clarence Thomas may have received the throne of judicial authority but Anita Hill reserves the legacy of a reflective character of dignity that no smear campaign has been able to make an inroad in her long walk to freedom and what she says was “finding her voice.”  It’s a voice she’s had to fight for and one other women have embraced.   Grade A