The following review was originally published as part of Women and Hollywood’s Sundance 2013 coverage.
When I was a young woman just starting my career, I encountered sexual harrassment like so many other women. I had no idea how to handle it and really didn’t know what it was. It scared me and made me miserable. Then one day, I watched this woman, Anita Hill, sit before an all-white male Senate commitee and talk about what a potential nominee for the Supreme Court had done to her. It hit me deep. Her guts, her composure and her honesty changed me. She empowered me and many other women to stand up for ourselves. I put on my “I Belive Anita Hill” pin and did not look back.
Now, a little over twenty years later, Academy Award-winning director Freida Mock reintroduces us to Anita Hill and reminds us of the debt we owe to her. It is amazing to go back to that time to see this woman, this reluctant witness, endure hours upon hours of testimony on what her experiences were when she worked for Clarence Thomas at the EEOC. This was a woman who did not want to testify, but she believed it was her duty to do what she did. In the film you see her arrive in DC from Oklahoma for her appearance looking like a deer in headlights, still not really knowing what was going to happen to her. Watching that moment, seeing her fear, made my heart skip a beat.
The crazy thing is that she was probably the worst person the Senate could have called because she actually knew what sexual harrassment was. She was a trained lawyer on these issues, worked at the EEOC, and knew how to handle being grilled by hostile parties. She schooled the committee on sexual harrassment, and in her contemporary interviews she relays her own shock as to how unprepared the committee members were in dealing with the issue.
The film is a true history lesson. Watching all those white older Senators grilling her while looking both angry that they had to endure this and fearful because they probably had a few skeletons in their own closets made me laugh because I know that because of Anita Hill, we will never have another hearing like that. While we still need more women in public office, never again will a woman have to endure what Anita Hill endured. For people of my generation, it is a reminder of an important moment we experienced and how it changed us. For younger women, it is a feminist moment they need to learn about.
Anita Hill’s life was changed by the hearings. Before that fateful day, she was content to be a professor of law in Oklahoma, but after that day, she became a national hero. She became the woman who confronted the system and stood up for the truth.
The film Anita confirmed what I already knew: Anita Hill is one of the true heroes of our time.