Anita: Revisiting the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Battle of 1991

Anita

Opens Fri., April 4 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 77 minutes.

You may find yourself wondering, in the opening minutes of this new documentary, which returns to the events of 23 years ago, why now? It’s a short-lived question. Within minutes, you find yourself immersed in a tale as riveting now as it was in 1991, when an unknown University of Oklahoma law professor named Anita Hill spoke up about the sexual harassment she said she’d endured at the hands of then–Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Hill’s astonishing poise during a nine-hour grilling by a Senate committee continues to amaze. And Oscar-winning director Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) deftly blends in details about Hill’s life. We visit the Oklahoma farm where she grew up as the youngest of 13 children, watch her close-knit family rally around her, and much later meet the man who’d become her long-term partner. The unseemly reception this 35-year-old black woman got from a panel of mostly hostile, insensitive senators—all of them old white men—is perhaps even more striking now than it was then. Even current Vice President Joseph Biden, then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, comes off looking bad as he asks Hill to repeat the lurid details of Thomas’ reputed harassment again and again.

Yet Anita is equally about Hill’s second act in life. It’s a dramatic story, as she’s vilified by Thomas’ defenders and driven out of the teaching job she loves, then later finds a job at an even more prestigious university (Brandeis) and a new orientation as a passionate advocate of gender equality. There are moving moments here, like when we follow Hill to her basement where rows of file cabinets contain thousands of supportive letters she has received over the years.

The film loses some of its power as it drifts into scenes of Hill at various female-empowerment talks and workshops. And it makes no pretense at balance: Thomas’ side of the story is absent. But you forgive Anita its sins, because it brings us closer to a woman whom we’ll likely still be talking about 20, 30, even 50 years from now.

nshapiro@seattleweekly.com

 
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