The testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings brought the sense of watching history in action, much like the Anita Hill hearings in 1991. Those moments led to both last year’s HBO movie “Confirmation,” and the 2013 documentary “Anita,” but the Ford testimony has already become a tense real-life drama. As the session began, broadcast via C-SPAN3, both Ford and Kavanaugh submitted the written statements that would form the basis for their testimony.
IndieWire Film Editor Kate Erbland and TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller watched the hearing together and shared these thoughts.
MILLER: We’re beginning this conversation just after Dr. Ford finished delivering her opening statement, which was simply heartbreaking — a stark and emotional recollection of her experiences. It was the nadir of the societal failures behind these circumstances: Here was a woman being forced to relive this traumatizing incident to an audience of millions.
ERBLAND: While the details of the alleged sexual assault have been made public over the past few weeks, seeing and hearing Dr. Ford share her story in a room filled with strangers and on national television was still wrenching. It was clear during the first half-hour of the session — dominated by Senators Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein lobbing various barbs at each other before finally getting to Dr. Ford and the actual hearing — that Dr. Ford was nervous and uneasy, and once she got into the details of the attack and the emotional fallout, the fear she still feels today was palpable. A public hearing like this may seem ghoulish, but the clarity that Dr. Ford provided can’t be overstated.
MILLER: Still, she really did make it through that section of the hearing as well as can be expected, and you’re totally right that the details (such as the second front door) were so important to her testimony’s power. The moments that came afterwards, such as Dr. Ford’s requests for caffeine and Senator Grassley whining that no one can ever gets his coffee order right, were a stark reminder of the raw, unscripted elements at play — and the humanity operating beneath the surface.
ERBLAND: Another reminder that this is all playing out in between imperfect people: the messy disorganization of the cross-examination portion of the hearing, bouncing between Special Counsel Rachel Mitchell and various senators and members of the committee. Despite the five-minute limit on individuals asking questions, the flow was disjointed, jarring, and decidedly un-television-friendly. And if it’s hard to grasp just the way things are going while watching, I can’t even imagine what it was like for Dr. Ford.
MILLER: Speaking of the way in which this session has been conducted, I still can’t get over Grassley’s opening statement. By condemning the lack of civility that has surrounded the controversy over Kavanaugh’s nomination, he basically said that what Dr. Ford and the nominee have experienced has been the same sort of hardship. One is a woman reliving a deeply private trauma on the public stage, and whose credibility has been put under the harshest of scrutiny; the other is a man whose fierce denials, if believed, will land him a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court Saying that “both” have experienced harassment and attention on an equal level is insane.
ERBLAND: Not to keep harping on the Anita Hill comparisons, but another element of the hearing that I couldn’t shake was an observation made during the documentary “Anita,” in which one person observes that most people seemed to think that it was Hill herself who was on trial during those hearings.
As it was noted during Dr. Ford’s hearing, no one was on trial — the entire affair is basically a complex job interview for Judge Kavanaugh — and yet the treatment by Dr. Ford by some senators and committee members, along with Rachel Mitchell herself, felt as if she, like Hill, was on trial. Things took a bizarre twist when Mitchell hauled out a large map of the area around Dr. Ford’s childhood home, asking her to confirm the location of said home. The Democrats repeatedly said they had no copies of the map, while Grassley was intent on pushing through and making everyone look at this comically large map instead of handing out copies to all parties. And for what? To make Dr. Ford reiterate the location of her childhood home? Pointless, and the optics only made this witness and alleged victim be further placed under the gun.
MILLER: Moments like Mitchell pulling out the maps, combined with the repeated insistence by Senate Democrats that a more thorough investigation was needed regarding these and other allegations made against Kavanaugh, highlighted one of the most important takeaways from this event: In no way was this hearing the best context for Ford’s story to be presented and considered by the committee. She performed admirably under the circumstances, but her testimony was yet another reminder that when women come forward, the current systems make the process brutal and often unbearable for many victims.