Sunday, June 22, 2014

DVDebut -- Freida Lee Mock's inspiring doc, ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

For many of us, the 1991 Senate hearings regarding Anita Hill and her accusations of sexual harassment against the then Supreme Court nominee (and now sitting Justice) Clarence Thomas still touch a raw nerve. Although Ms Hill has faded somewhat into history (and into her own quietly successful career and personal life), surfacing now and again -- as when Thomas' wife made the ridiculous phone call (that immediately became public knowledge) asking Hill to recant her original, sworn testimony -- Thomas himself is unfortunately always with us. To my mind, he is the least intelligent and least worthy person to sit on the Supreme Court (in my lifetime, certainly, and maybe ever), and also the most do-nothing justice we've had to put up with.

At the time of her testimony, Ms Hill made it clear that she was not trying to sue or bring charges against this man for sexual harassment but simply wanted to place before the U.S. citizens and elected officials what kind of man had been nominated for this enormously important -- and lifetime -- place on the Supreme Court. Tellingly, Hill was not the only woman who had leveled these charges against Thomas. There were others, yet none of them were allowed to testify along with Hill. This "oversight" from a highly sexist Senate committee made the entire Hill/Thomas charade seem like a mere she-said/he-said contretemps, and Thomas was eventually confirmed as a Justice (though by a very small majority of votes).

The excellent documentary, ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER, made by Award-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock (shown above), serves two purposes. It takes us (together with younger folk who were unable to appreciate what was going on 23 years ago) back to that time and shows us what happened and why. Ms Hill makes one of the best and most believable witnesses I've ever seen -- thoughtful, intelligent, quiet, kind and brave. (With her testimony backed up, it must be said, by a number of other fine people.) Then the film takes us behind the scenes to give a brief history of Miss Hill, shown above and below at the time of the hearings, her family, and what has happened to her since then.

If you've never seen nor heard any of the hearings, the movie should open your eyes wide and sharp. Either way, it proves the last half of the film, in which we learn more than most of us have know about this unusually courageous and decent woman that makes the movie so genuinely inspirational. A lot has happened since the early 1990s regarding sexual harassment and how it is perceived, and it would seem that Ms Hill's real gift, in addition to speaking truth to power, lies in what she now stands for in the minds and hearts of so many woman (men, too). She is a living symbol of the difference that taking a stand can make.

Leaning about her family (she's one of 13 siblings) and how it lived first in North Carolina until threat of a lynching made the entire group move to Oklahoma, her studies prior to employment (under Mr. Thomas), and especially her career at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where she clearly has blossomed once more. She loves teaching and seems to be very good at it, too.

We also learn something of her personal life from the man who has been her significant other for a number of years now. And finally we see the results of what her name, her deed and her continuing work has achieved via the many young women, men and groups across the country dedicated to putting sexual harassment in its place. (We even learn how that blue dress she wore at the hearings became rather iconic.)

All told, this is an inspiring, triumphant documentary that makes a hero out of someone who did not ask for this but has clearly become one worth touting. You can rent or purchase the DVD of Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, running 77 minutes, beginning Tuesday, June 24. And, as is the case with many of the films from First Run Features, you should be able to stream it via Netflix fairly soon.

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