anitafull ANITA plays Hot Docs 2013

ANITA begins with a request for an apology.

We hear a voicemail message from Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In this voicemail she leaves for Anita Hill, she floats the idea that after almost twenty years, the time might be right for Anita Hill to apologize publicly for testifying before a Senate Committee about the character of the then Supreme Court nominee, and specifically accusing him of sexual harassment.

What’s interesting is that after this documentary plays out, and one witnesses not only the mockery and scepticism Hill was met with inside that hearing, but also the tabloid-like stalking she was subjected to afterwards, one can’t help but feel like the time has come for someone to stand up and apologize to her.

ANITA is a portrait of a woman who changed so very much about North American life. It begins by reminding us that Hill was approached by federal investigators doing a thorough background check on Judge Thomas. When the investigators specifically asked about sexual misconduct, Hill, having searched her conscience, decided that she didn’t want to hide the truth and submitted what she thought would be confidential information. Unfortunately, the testimony was leaked, and weeks later she was brought before a United States Senate Committee to give an embarrassing blow-by-blow account.

This film’s strength comes by making us rewatch moments of that testimony with the clarity of hindsight. Without hearing a word, viewers will be struck by the optics of the situation: one woman seated before an entire row of old, white men trying to make them understand the situation. It seems almost absurd now, but a mere twenty-two years ago, these politicians had to be held by the hand and treated like children to understand that it’s not OK for a male superior to discuss pornography and his own sexual prowess to a female subordinate in the workplace.

What carries the film is something that committee might not have thought about at the time: Anita Hill is a well-educated, well-spoken, professor of law. This testimony should have been taken with a great deal of seriousness, even if they were coming from a gum-chewing, high-school-dropout secretary. Considering that they were coming from someone of such character and learning should have carried even more weight. Instead, the situation became a way to turn the accuser into the accused, and chalk it all up to “he said/she said”.

In its final act, the film allows us to see that it’s the legacy of that political shoulder-shrug that would ultimately change more about society. While Clarence Thomas was appointed to The United States Supreme Court by a narrow margin of 52 to 48, the conversation about sexism and sexual harassment was dragged kicking-and-screaming into the light. Men everywhere were forced to confront the fact that their behaviour was not OK, and women everywhere began to rally around each other and encourage one-another to speak up.

ANITA isn’t going to set the world on fire for its storytelling techniques, but that doesn’t seem to concern it. What it’s most concerned with is rewinding the tape twenty-two years, and reminding us where we came from. It wants to remind us of a time when the words “sexual harassment” were scoffed over and garnered confused looks, and how shameful such reactions were. It wants to underline how far we have come thanks to the courage, intelligence and grace of Anita Hill…and how far we still have to go.

ANITA is playing once more on Saturday May 4 – 4pm at Isabel Bader Theatre.