The new doc Anita—Speaking Truth to Power is a powerful reminder of the change that can take place when one person speaks out and how far we have come from 1991 in terms of gender equality.
Knowing only the general gist about Anita Hill, I was interested in hearing her story as I watched the documentary Anita – Speaking Truth to Power. The film’s focus is the 1991 testimony she gave before the all-white, all-male judiciary committee and its aftermath. Hill was subpoenaed to testify following a leaked interview she gave documenting sexual harassment she had experienced working for Clarence Thomas from 1981 to 1983. Although Hill is repeatedly scrutinized by the committee, which included then Senator Joe Biden, she remains poised as she answers uncomfortable questions surrounding Thomas’ behavior and her own motivations for bringing up the incidents. She says, “The issue became my character as opposed to the character of the nominee.” Other people interviewed in the film include Hill’s lawyer Charles Ogletree and former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who provide commentary on the media storm surrounding the case and what Hill’s actions meant for the nation.
Following the testimony, Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court in a 52-48 vote. Hill ended up receiving death threats and threats of sexual violence. Fortunately she also received thousands of letters of support (which she keeps filed in cabinets) from people thanking her for her courage and relating their own experiences.
The trajectory of Hill’s life as an Oklahoma law professor was forever changed and she eventually took a teaching position at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. She also embraced a public role of advocating for women. Hill comments, “People misunderstand that harassment is about the sex. It’s really about control and power and abusing it.” She sees sexual harassment as just one part of gender inequality which spans many different spaces from the workplace to public sidewalks to inside the home. The film also shows her involvement as an educator and speaker which contribute to her legacy as an advocate for equality.
The documentary is a powerful reminder of the change that can take place when one person speaks out and how far we have come from 1991 in terms of gender equality. However considering recent decisions such as the Hobby Lobby case by the Supreme Court, it also reminds us just how far we have to go.