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Anita Hill, after being silent for 10 years, comes forward within a week of Clarence Thomas becoming a member of the Supreme Court and is crucified in political theater.
While the movie surely illuminates the topic of sexual harassment, in some ways it does feel like a disservice to the two main characters it wishes to speak on. For with both Washington and Pierce well known for very animated and dramatic characters, it is hard to not let a feeling of typecasting lead you to feel about them as you would an action star. Meaning, yes, the character is by a different name and origin but is essentially played the same way the actor always plays their roles. Just, this time, they try their best to reign it in and sometimes you feel the stress of them unable to do their usual outbursts.
Main Storyline (with Commentary)
In the fall of 1991, University of Oklahoma professor Anita Hill (Kerry Washington) had what could be considered a good life. She may not have had her name known throughout the country, but she was a respected member of the UoC’s faculty and had done great work in her previous position at the EEOC. But it is that work at the EEOC, under Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce), which brought her out of obscurity and into the national spotlight. For with one of Senator Kennedy’s aid trying to dig dirt up on Thomas before his Supreme Court hearing, she finds a barely willing Anita Hill willing to recount the situations Thomas allegedly put her in.
Thus leading to a media frenzy one in which, as the film says, the victim becomes the villain, and everyone tries to spin the story to shift who is the victim and who is the villain. Is the villain the man who had the power of being a supervisor and likely took advantage of a young woman trying to build up her career? Could the villain instead be a woman who waited for years, and through multiple promotions, to speak out against Thomas? Or perhaps are the villains those who would create environments in which the truth gets muffled and stifled, and fear smothers those who would dare speak up? Either way, the film plays with said idea, alongside hailing Hill as someone who brought workplace sexual harassment to the forefront, alongside creating a push for more women to join congress.
Eric Stonestreet: Though not mentioned in the main storyline section, and perhaps not a huge character in the overall storyline, his performance stands out the most. For while Washington and Pierce play more subdued roles than perhaps you are used to, they remain very much in their comfort zone. To the point, it just seems like them slightly tuning their own personalities rather than really assuming the role of a character. With Stonestreet though, being that he has his role on Modern Family and then this, you see what you expect from a versatile actor. One which can be comical and loveable in one role, and cut throat and appalling in another.
You Really Get A Sense of Why Sexual Harassment Is Such An Issue: The number is that 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence, and while this ratio is rather well known, the story of that 1 out of the three women isn’t. Films like this highlight why for just look at what happened to Anita. She barely wanted to do more than present a statement, but she ended up becoming a Trojan horse or, more so, a pig to be slaughtered. For while, yes, she had a family, a respectable career and all that, what she is diminished to is her being a woman in a man’s world. One which doesn’t take to kindly to making him feel vulnerable or having to 2nd guess his actions. And then, even with the “good guys” like Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear), there is this desire not to cause trouble and even question the validity of statements in private as they pretend to be champions in public. Thus really putting you not just into the mindset of the past, but also the present. For as much as this film helps you understand why it is so hard for many women, men, and those who are gender fluid to come forward about assault, it also reminds you that sometimes allies are only allies when they either benefit from your sacrifices or are forced to for selfish reasons. After all, based on the exclusion of Angela Wright, and how Biden seemingly wanted to keep Anita Hill from becoming an issue which would damage future negotiations and work, you get to see both sides. Publicly he was someone trying to be sympathetic and trying to let her speak, yet at the same time, he let her drown. He let republicans bully him into letting Clarence Thomas speak first, he didn’t want Angela Wright to support Hill’s testimony, and from what it seemed he didn’t even try to reign in his colleagues. Making it so that, in the end, Hill would have to admit defeat just because there was no one coming to her side to relieve her of shouldering the burden of media scrutiny.
On The Fence
It’s Hard To Tell What Are Embellishments, Creative Licenses, and What Is The Truth: While both Pierce and Washington don’t use their usual theatrics which have made them memorable, they don’t shake this feeling that every line, restrained outburst, or movement, isn’t more so a matter of historical fiction than a reenactment or presenting a point of view. For example, during many of Pierce’s speeches in front of the Judiciary Committee, I found myself wanting to quickly head over to YouTube to see the actual hearings. For, honestly, even with Pierce reigning it in, you can feel there is this energy and pent up frustration he wants to let out. As if he wants to break out of the shell Clarence Thomas’ persona is forcing him into and he wants to go off like the characters who are within his comfort zone would let him. Same goes for Washington to a point. The desire to typecast her is strong and it makes it so you don’t feel like you are seeing Anita Hill, a person who is living and breathing still today, but Kerry Washington being Kerry Washington but not using her usual signatures.