In 1991, Clarence Thomas’ political career almost came to an end when University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment while they worked together at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (EEOC) The accusations turned what was assumed to be Thomas’ smooth transition replacing Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall into political theater, with both Thomas and Hill needing to “perform” in order to cast enough doubt on the other.
HBO tackles the delicate dance of race, gender and where they intersect in the Rick Famuyiwa directed Confirmation. Airing 8PM, Saturday, April 16, Washington donning a different sort of gladiator hat melts into the role playing the Yale Law School graduate. With tight curls, a soft-spoken voice and demure presence, Washington demonstrates it was Hill’s undeniable intelligence and ability to remain the course in the midst of the hearings that helped make her testimony convincing.
Yet Thomas, who had the backing of then president George H.W. Bush, wasn’t willing to go down without a fight, going as far to call the hearing a “high-tech lynching.” The brazen move proved effective. As a black man being judged by a committee of white men, one of which was the Sen. Joe Bidden, no one had the cojones to challenge Thomas on his accusations that race, not sexual harassment to which Hill was accusing him of, was at play.
From a black-and-white perspective, one could make the argument Thomas “won.” He eventually became a Supreme Court Justice, with the stain of the hearings forever being associated with his legacy. However, it was Hill’s bravery that helped to start the discussion on sexual harassment, which forever changed what we now consider “appropriate” workplace behavior. Her testimony gave women a voice and a palpable shield of protection, and she did so courageously.
Confirmation airs 8PM, Saturday, April 16