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Kerry Washington nails her portrayal of Anita Hill in HBO’s ‘Confirmation’

(Photo by Frank Masi - © 2015 HBO Films)
(Photo by Frank Masi – © 2015 HBO Films)

“I loved her dignity and emotion,” Anita Hill says of Kerry Washington, in a new interview with Essence, 25 years after the watershed event that put her in the U. S. Senate’s crosshairs. “She appeared a lot more dignified than I felt during that moment, but she still lost nothing in terms of how painful the experience was. That is hard to convey, but she did it beautifully.”

In Confirmation, Washington (executive producer) portrays law professor Anita Hill, with Wendell Pierce as Judge Thomas and Greg Kinnear as Democratic Senator Joe Biden, who presided over the hearings as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Jeffrey Wright plays Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, professor Hill’s lead attorney during the hearings, and Eric Stonestreet portrays Ken Duberstein, former White House chief of staff under President Reagan. Jennifer Hudson portrays Angela Wright, another Thomas accuser, who was subpoenaed but was never called to testify before the Judiciary Committee. Surprises include actresses who make cameos as Michelle Robinson [Obama], Ogletree’s protégée, and Judy Smith. This film details the explosive 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings, which brought the country to a standstill and forever changed the way we think about sexual harassment, victims’ rights and modern-day race relations.

In July 1991, President George H. W. Bush, five days after the first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement, tapped Thomas to be his replacement.

At 10:57 a.m. on Oct. 11, 1991, during the confirmation hearing in the Senate Caucus Room, University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill’s life changed. She was the focal point of the biggest sex scandals to rock the SCOTUS. Hill was called to testify and had to share explicit details about her dealings with Thomas, who 10 years earlier, in 1981, had become her attorney-adviser at the United States Department of Education. When Thomas became chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982, she went with him to serve as his special assistant until she quit in mid-1983. She accused him of sexual misconduct.

Between Washington and Pierce, this writer can’t say who delivered the most compelling performance. If you close your eyes to the bias established in your mind prior to watching this presentation on HBO, you’d find it hard to choose which actor to believe. The fireworks were on full display.

As Thomas, Pierce pulls the race card and calls this “high-tech lynching.” When Washington as Hill shares her encounters with Thomas, a self-proclaimed “Long Dong Silver,” you’re repulsed. To even reference this as modern-day lynching is dismissive of her experience that left her “embarrassed and humiliated.” It took her a decade to come forward because she feared she’d suffer professionally but she “had to tell the truth. She could not keep silent.” The details were lurid, with Thomas making provocatively suggestive comments on the subjects of porn, bestiality, orgies and “pubic hairs on my Coke [can].”

The victim becomes the villain. Their performances were so intellectually stimulating, you are unsure who the original victim is.

After three days of testimony, Hill had enough.

Thomas was confirmed with 52 consenting and 48 dissenting, the narrowest margin in history.

Public support was vindicating for Hill, she tells ABC’s Robin Roberts in an interview, “I have been approached by so many people who said my testimony at the hearing allowed them to find their own voice, and that is the greatest legacy I could ever hope for.”

The HBO Films presentation of Confirmation debuts on Saturday, April 16, at 8 p.m. EST.

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