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Anita - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

The story of Anita Hill is a strange one indeed, a sort of time capsule that offers a window into the way gender issues are discussed in America today -- particularly, of course, sexual harassment. This documentary, Anita, is transparently biased, but to no detriment. It reveals a woman of true strength and character, at least when it comes to this specific experience, which changed and shaped her life. It's almost impossible not to admire her after watching this. I did wonder, for example, how does she feel about, say, same-sex marriage? Much like lauded politicians and activists of the past who happened also to be womanizers, it begs the question of relevance.

Anita is not interested in such nuances, and its defining element is the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which Anita Hill testified in 1991. But this is only fair, considering how that one thing has defined Anita Hill herself, and how the entire public views her.

There may be some generational differences in how audiences process this movie. I was only 15 in 1991, and paid almost no attention to the news; I learned more about Anita Hill later, as an adult. There are adults alive today who weren't even born when the hearing occurred -- for many, this is simply history. But it was a watershed moment in American history, and remains worthy of attention.

The hearings, conducted bizarrely as if Anita Hill were on trial, were actually the result of public pressure after details of Hill's professional experience with Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas were brought to light. Many people jumped to the conclusion that Hill set out to attack and discredit the man, and therefore felt it natural to counter-attack. But, according to this movie anyway, she was simply called as part of the vetting process. She was asked about his conduct and she answered truthfully. Only when outrage over seeming inaction to this information seemed to necessitate it did the Senate call the hearing. Anita Hill did not volunteer to testify -- she was actually subpoenaed.

How anyone could believe Anita Hill did all this for attention or vengeance and was a liar is beyond the imagination. If that woman was a liar, then she's perhaps the best actress in America today and is in the wrong profession.

In the opening scene of Anita, she plays back a saved voice mail left in 2010 by Virginia Thomas, Clarence's wife, literally asking Anita Hill for an apology. The message was left early on a Saturday morning at Anita's office, which suggests, of course, that Virginia didn't actually want to speak to her. It's jaw-dropping nonetheless, and indicative of many years of Virginia's apparent self-delusion.

It's slightly disappointing that director Freida Lee Mock barely touches on this voice mail again in the film. It's an attention-grabbing opener with little payoff. There are no interviews with Virginia, or anyone else against Anita for that matter. There isn't so much as archive footage, which surely must exist. The best we get is Clarence Thomas's own opening statement when he was brought to testify after Anita, the point at which he infamously referred to "uppity blacks" and how "disgusting" this so-called "high-tech lynching" (huh?) was. It's impossible to watch the clip without being disgusted with the man himself.

The way race factored into the proceedings is fascinating, and discussed somewhat in this film, but could easily have stood more attention. It's relevant, perhaps, to note that Virginia Thomas is white. And that every single person on that Senate Judiciary Committee (as usual) was also white. Having never faced a challenge like this before, nearly across the board -- but particularly the Republicans -- they asked questions that ranged from ill-informed to outright offensive. It's a little surreal to see our current Vice President, Joe Biden, was on that committee, and he didn't come across much better than any of the other men there. One hopes he's learned some things in the intervening years.

Anita characterizes this Committee as scared to be seen as going after the black man -- but perfectly comfortable with going after the black woman. It's one in a long line of examples of sexism running far deeper than racism in this country, which is saying something. In one of the contemporary interviews with Hill, she says, "He had a race and I had a gender." Further compounding the irony is the fact that when the alleged misconduct took place either years prior to the 1991 hearing, Clarence Thomas was Chairman of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill worked for him there when the alleged sexual harassment took place -- the references to the size of his penis, and the pubic hair on a Coke, and all that. These stories will be hard to forget for anyone who was watching, the Committee had Anita repeat them so many times and in surprising detail.

If anything, Anita sheds light on how Anita Hill's testimony changed the national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace, regardless of how truthful she was being. (I can't help but point out here, however, that believing Anita Hill was an attention-seeking liar makes about as much sense as believing people can choose to be gay -- what rational person would actively pursue the kind of life this created for her?) Granted, Hill recently published a book; she goes on speaking tours; and she is now the subject of a wide-release documentary. She's certainly asking for the attention she's getting now. But if it means keeping the discussion going about sexual harassment and gender inequality -- which seems to be her motivation -- then she is still making a positive difference in the world. This is a woman who refuses to be ignored or dismissed.

Anita Hill is the poster woman for discussing sexual harassment in ANITA.

Overall: B+
2 comments or Leave a comment
pocketlama From: pocketlama Date: April 9th, 2014 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)


Good review, thanks. Now I'm very interested in seeing this movie. I was also young when this happened. I remember being generally disgusted by the whole thing but I didn't get the obvious truth that she was the one being attacked and needed our support.

I appreciate this quote,"believing Anita Hill was an attention-seeking liar makes about as much sense as believing people can choose to be gay." I have noticed, over the years, that people who want to dismiss some person they use that attention-seeking bullshit to discredit them. While it is *clearly* bullshit they seem to take comfort in it.

I'm happy she has a career as a speaker but it's still another stain on congress that she was the subject of a vicious attack.
cinema_holic From: cinema_holic Date: April 9th, 2014 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thanks

Thanks! It surely shed a lot of light on the whole story that I was not really privy to before.
2 comments or Leave a comment