In 1991, 35-year-old University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill was called before Congress to testify about the behavior of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her former boss at the Office for Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Hill was subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee to share allegations that Thomas sexually harassed her on the job at the EEOC — the federal agency that handles workplace sexual harassment claims, among other things. For coming forward, Hill was demonized by conservatives, who called her a liar and delusional for thinking Thomas could be interested in her. Their attacks on Hill’s character worked; by the end of the hearings, nearly three-quarters of the public believed she lied about Thomas. It was only in the ensuing years that a steady stream of books, interviews and articles emerged to bolster Hill’s version of events, and discredit Thomas’.
Add to that list Confirmation, a film airing April 16th on HBO, starring Kerry Washington as Hill, Wendell Pierce as Thomas and Greg Kinnear as then Judiciary Committee chair Joe Biden. Hill recently spoke to Rolling Stone about reliving her experience with the hearings via conversations with Washington and screenwriter Susannah Grant; the film’s portrayal of Biden, who refused to call witnesses who would’ve supported Hill’s claims; and all the ways America still fails victims of sexual harassment and abuse.
You participated in a 2013 documentary about your life, Anita. How was the experience different this time, with a dramatization produced by HBO?
It was entirely different from the beginning to the end. [Anita director] Freida Mock came to me and asked permission to do the documentary. That was not the case with the film that Kerry Washington, screenwriter Susannah Grant and [producer] Mike London did. They started the production and came to me for input in terms of what my experience was, but it was not a partnership or a collaboration. I simply had input to tell them how I experienced 1991. But I understand that they talked to probably scores of people from different points of view to put together the actual film that is now going to be premiering.
What were your conversations with Susannah Grant and with Kerry Washington like?
There were questions about, “How did you experience it?” “What were you feeling?” “What did you know?” “What did you think was going to happen?” “Were you surprised?” “How did it feel moment to moment as the situation evolved?” The conversations were very, very intense.
Yes. As you can imagine, I’m going back and really trying to relive one of the worst — at least in terms of interactions with a political body — the worst experience that I had ever had in my life to give them a sense of what it was like to live in that moment. Yes, they were very intense.
How does the finished film compare with your memories of the hearings?
I will say that [Confirmation] is not just about my memories. One of the things that occurred in 1991, when people were watching it: This was almost like political reality TV being played out in front of people, on their television sets and on radio. What we didn’t know at the time were some of the things that were going on behind the scenes. I knew what was happening with my team and how hard we were working, but we didn’t know — I certainly didn’t know — what was going on on behalf of Clarence Thomas behind the scenes, and that’s one of the things that the film truly does bring that I don’t think most people know. That’s a fresh part of the story.