Next Saturday, HBO premieres Confirmation, a movie about Anita Hill’s controversial 1991 sexual harassment testimony against Clarence Thomas.
A new generation may know Washington best as Olivia Pope — but her powerful performance as Anita Hill gives us real-life inspiration.
TheGrio.com caught a special screening of the film in New York City this week. Whether you supported Hill, Thomas or were too young to remember why your parents were yelling at the television screen, here’s seven reasons you need to check out the film:
1. Kerry Washington Executive Produced the Movie
Because…what can’t this woman do? Washington says she remembers the hearings from her childhood and first learned about the intersectionality of being black and a woman from watching the fallout. When she initially approached Anita Hill about the project, Hill was reluctant.
“She said ‘I just don’t know that I want to relive all of this again.’ And because I was so passionate about the project, I said, ‘That’s okay, you don’t have to, because that’s my job to live it for you.’” Washington lives it and shows there’s much more to her talent than reading a script.
2. It Captures the 90s Perfectly
From those big-curled hair bumps to squared baggy clothes, Confirmation takes you fully back to the era of the 1990s. The movie gets more right than just Anita Hill’s teal blue suit though. We’re also reminded of the days before Twitter and Facebook when people gathered around the TV to get their news from a few mainstream voices, as real life clips of the testimony coverage are included throughout the film. Makes you wonder how social media would’ve changed the game for witnesses who were being silenced or women who didn’t have political backing to share their own stories then.
3. Wendell Pierce Makes Clarence Thomas More than a Villain
Veteran actor Wendell Pierce has never met Clarence Thomas and didn’t exactly understand him at first. “I had preconceived notions about Clarence Thomas,” says Pierce. “We are politically opposites. But I realized this wasn’t a political journey; it was a personal journey.” Pierce says he learned that he and Thomas had a lot in common, both being African-American men born into black Catholic families from the South who emphasized education.
Thomas worked his whole life to achieve a certain pinnacle of success for a black man in America — the potential loss of it carrying its own drama and emotion on the big screen. “Our goal was to turn these political caricatures into human beings,” says Washington. “We wanted your compassion to be pulled in multiple directions.”
4. You Get to See Vice President Joe Biden in a Different Light
We’re used to seeing good ol’ “Uncle Joe” Biden smiling next to President Barack Obama in the White House, but Biden’s long political career included being chairman of the committee tasked with investigating Anita Hill’s claims. It’s hard to imagine laughing at a movie about sexual harassment, but Senator Joe Biden, played by Greg Kinnear, gives plenty of comic relief. At one point, his reluctance to investigate Hill’s case is comical, if not embarrassing, when he says, “Can we just let it go?” The real life Anita Hill says she hasn’t talked to Biden since the hearings — after watching the movie, you might understand why. No word on how Biden feels about his portrayal in the movie.
5. Because It Shows How Black Women Are Often Asked to Choose Between Race and Gender
Historic spoiler alert: The real-life inspiration for Olivia Pope, Judy Smith, makes an appearance in “Confirmation” — and it’s not exactly as a shero. Smith was part of the White House political team accused of smearing Hill to help Thomas’ confirmation get through. But she’s not the only black woman who officially stood with Thomas. Many agreed with Thomas’ assertion that the whole hearing was a “high-tech lynching,” shifting the focus of public discourse to race instead of sexual harassment.
6. The Movie Doesn’t Exactly Tell You Who Was Telling the Truth
There’s no question Confirmation favors Anita Hill as the central character in its storyline, but it doesn’t spend any time portraying the time when Hill and Thomas worked together. The movie focuses on the build up to the sexual harassment testimony and the media circus around it. It also conveys the personal toll the controversy took on Hill, Thomas and their families behind-the-scenes as they became the center of national attention. Whether you believe Hill or Thomas, you get see what both of them had at stake in being believed.
7. Because Sexual Harassment Victims Still Aren’t Believed Today
Many moments in Confirmation are uncomfortably familiar. The takedown of Anita Hill was almost textbook. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?” “Did you encourage his behavior in any way?” “Do you have ulterior motives in sharing these accusations now?” Watching powerful men in government rip Hill apart publicly reminds us there’s always a cost to speaking up about harassment — especially when you’re a women. But history reveals that although Hill lost her case, after testifying, sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC doubled, and a record number of women ran for public office.
Washington explains the movie changed her definition of winning the fight for justice and equality. “This is the long game. It’s not about winning this round. This is about creating change over a period of time.”
Confirmation premieres on HBO April 16th at 8pm EST and on HBO Go and HBO Nows apps. Grio Fam, will you be watching? Hit us up in the comments and follow us on Twitter @theGrio for the latest in entertainment news.