“Confirmation”—The Sexual Harassment of Anita Hill

confirmation_still

Almost twenty-five years ago, Anita Hill testified in front of an all-white male congressional hearing presided over by Senator Joe Biden, accusing Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, a legal concept that did not, as yet, resonate with the American public. In “Confirmation”, an HBO mini-series, we see the reliving of the riveting testimony: Anita Hill’s accusations and Clarence Thomas’s defense with almost exact wording from the hearing transcripts.

At times the hearing seems to deal with race – particularly after Thomas’s “high tech lynching” comment, which struck an emotional chord for some and a signal for others that Hill’s testimony would be discounted. What “Confirmation” actually zeroes in on is how Anita Hill’s world on the job was radically different from a male colleague’s. Although sexual harassment had been defined as a form of sexual discrimination in 1977, almost fifteen years later the term “sexual harassment” was still not in the public conscience. The Anita Hill testimony changed that.

Hardly anyone knew what characterized sexual harassment, let alone how it impacted women in the workforce. Kerry Washington (as Anita Hill) brings this past astonishingly into the present, wearing a copy of the same turquoise suit and hairstyle of Hill, and recreating Anita Hill’s voice, cadence, mannerisms and facial expressions. For those of us who remember the original hearings, Kerry Washington’s performance is no less than astonishing. Wendell Pierce as Clarence Thomas also gives an award-worthy performance, imbuing Thomas with dignity and, at times, a sympathetic quality.

A drama that is more of a “street fight”, “Confirmation” portrays Senators Ted Kennedy (played by Treat Williams), John Danforth (Bill Irwin) and Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear) as unlikeable characters who engage in behind-the-scenes fights and digging for dirt or backing down under political pressure. Not since “House of Cards” has this viewer seen such political ruthlessness and behind-the-scenes maneuverings. Part fact, part fiction “Confirmation” is spell-binding.