Anita: Speaking Truth to Power

If not every reader of this space will remember Anita Hill, the law professor who briefly detoured Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination by telling the nation he’d sexually harassed her, that seems like reason enough for former Oscar-winner Freida Mock to exercise a fundamental documentary-maker’s prerogative: re-opening cans of worms. Anita recaps the highly depressing 1991 spectacle of a black woman giving mannerly but graphic testimony of harassment to an all-white, all-male Senate committee (very awkwardly presided over by then-senator Joe Biden), and tidily surveys the cultural upheaval thereafter. Thomas, for his part, called the proceedings a national disgrace and “a high-tech lynching.” Then he got the job, for life. Hill became a relatively quiet crusader — deeply conniving or deeply courageous, depending who you ask — for gender equality. Seen listening to her emotional and sometimes worshipful supporters, she now handles her de facto leadership role with characteristic decorum, and her clarity is a helpful counterforce to the insipidness of discussion by which, for instance, the feebly passive phrase “not ok” has become so colloquially ubiquitous. Her legacy includes an improved legal recourse for victims of sex discrimination, an overdue proliferation of women holding public office, and an essential precedent for an American conversation, however ugly and awkward it still may get, about sexual harassment. Mock’s film passes up some chances for a more comprehensive view, and accordingly loses some of its steam, but what’s most important may be that it keeps the conversation going.