Anita Hill sexual harassment testimony dramatized in new movie

Posted in Sexual Harassment on April 20, 2016

Now that companies like Netflix, Amazon and HBO are creating their own movies and shows, there are more opportunities than ever before to tell important stories that probably wouldn’t be found on regular television.

Earlier this week, for instance, HBO premiered its original film “Confirmation.” It dramatizes one of the highest-profile cases of sexual harassment in American history. It tells the story of Anita Hill’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, alleging that she had been sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Younger Americans may not be old enough to remember Hill’s 1991 testimony, but their parents and grandparents likely watched the scandal unfold each night on the news. When Justice Clarence Thomas was going through the confirmation process in the Senate, a private FBI interview with Anita Hill was somehow leaked to the press. When it became known that Hill had accused Thomas of pervasive sexual harassment, she was asked to testify before the committee.

Ironically, the harassment occurred while Hill reported to Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education. Because they worked at the EEOC, there is simply no way that Thomas wouldn’t have known that his alleged comments and behavior constituted sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, Anita Hill’s accusations were met with hostility and skepticism from the press and especially from the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. Many women who saw excerpts of the testimony still remember the images of Hill being grilled by a panel of men, who often asked questions designed to convey their disbelief or to humiliate Hill. When all was said and done, Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Court while Ms. Hill’s reputation was greatly damaged.

There are two important silver linings to this story, however. The first is that Anita Hill sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace. Some even credit this case as the first time the term “sexual harassment” came into widespread use. The second is that many prominent female politicians have said that the Anita Hill case prompted them to get involved in politics. When they saw Hill being skewered by an all-male group of Senators, they realized that women’s interests were not being adequately represented at the highest levels of government.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination (including in politics) are obviously still a problem. But thanks to brave women like Anita Hill, considerable progress has been made. Let’s hope the HBO dramatization of her story helps inspire a new generation of Americans to continue this work.