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Monday, March 17, 2014

New Documentary Revisits Anita Hill’s Testimony

Law professor Anita Hill takes the oath on October 12, 1991, before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. Hill filed sexual harassment charges against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. (Jennifer Law/AFP/Getty Images)

Law professor Anita Hill takes the oath on October 12, 1991, before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. Hill filed sexual harassment charges against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. (Jennifer Law/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1991, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas as an associate Supreme Court justice.

Attorney Anita Hill and director/producer Freida Mock pose for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, January 18, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Attorney Anita Hill and director/producer Freida Mock pose for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, January 18, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Her allegations of sexual harassment and the intense questioning by the senators ignited a firestorm of controversy around the country between those who believed Hill and those who thought she was lying.

Though Clarence Thomas was eventually confirmed and currently sits on the Supreme Court, Anita Hill’s life was forever changed.

Now, the new film “Anita” revisits those hearings, the passions it provoked, and the long lasting impact of Anita Hill’s testimony.

Hill herself also speaks about the effect of her testimony on her own life at the time, and in the years that followed.

“Anita” director Freida Mock joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss the film.

Interview Highlights: Freida Mock

On how things have changed since 1991

“Then, we realized one didn’t talk about it and dealt with it by avoiding it and not making a so-called fuss. I think the hearings sound almost strange that people talked that way to a person or would ask such intrusive questions. It’s only 20 years ago but compared to what we are today, I don’t believe that people would dare publicly treat someone that way. What happened in that sensational hearing, televised nationally, really became a transformative act in terms of looking at what has happened to the rights of both women and men in the workplace, to the extent that there has been reform on sexual harassment behavior.”

On the many people who did not believe Hill’s testimony

“At that time in’91 I think they took a poll, they said seven out of 10 did not believe her, and that included women. But within a year, they said that the polls changed and once the people began to think about, understand the context in which she was speaking, there was a dramatic shift and the numbers dramatically changed in her favor. I think people were just stunned to hear someone speak so openly and candidly and graphically about what had happened.”

On the legacy of the hearings

“In workplace rights there are policies mandated that there be sexual harassment training. And the legacy too is certainly now we see this happening in trying to address the issue on college campuses. I mean we’ve know sexual assault’s been happening forever… So that legacy is very real, but I find in the film that it was really encouraging to see the next generation of young women activists who’ve been inspired by Anita… And that part I think is the real legacy of what Anita, who did not set out to be a spokesperson, I think, for gender equality, she was just at that moment speaking her truth. But she has I think been transformed by the fact that she is a public figure and she’s heard from thousands of Americans and people from around the world about this issue and she has taken on the mantle of being a spokesperson for the rights of men and women.”

Guest

  • Freida Mock, director of “Anita.” She’s co-founder of the American Film Foundation. Her documentary “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” won an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1995.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

Back in the fall of 1991, Anita Hill was a little-known law professor at the University of Oklahoma. She soon became one of the most famous women in the country because of her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it was deciding whether or not advance Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Hill said that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was assistant secretary of education for civil rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ANITA")

ANITA HILL: After approximately three months of working there, he asked me to go out socially with him. What happened next and telling the world about it are the two most difficult things - experiences of my life. It would have been more comfortable to remain silent. But when I was asked by a representative of this committee to report my experience, I felt that I had to tell the truth.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, a new documentary called "Anita" looks at the controversy that surrounded and followed Anita Hill after the Thomas hearings. Joining us from the studios of NPR West is documentary director Freida Mock. Welcome.

FREIDA MOCK: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.

CHAKRABARTI: So it's been more than 20 years since the 1991 testimony that Anita Hill gave. What did she tell you about why she decided to work with you on this film?

MOCK: When I approached her, she didn't tell me why specifically. She just said yes about doing a film. But she has said that in the course of teaching, she found in the recent, you know, five to eight, 10 years that the next generation of kids growing up are really media savvy and that's a way in which they learn about issues and history. And she felt that this medium, film and ultimately digital distribution, is a way for the story and the themes of life to be understood by the younger generation.

CHAKRABARTI: One of the most brazing things about the film I found is that it really takes you back in time to 1991 and the tone and the nature of both Anita Hill's testimony and the questioning she was put under. I mean, because I think a lot of people forget that it was grueling nine hours, right, of testimony.

MOCK: Yes. Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: And the questioning was oftentimes very intrusive from the senators, very intimate. I mean, this is when Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming questioned Anita Hill about her voracity. So let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED CONFIRMATION HEARING)

SENATOR ALAN SIMPSON: If you what say this man said to you occurred, why in God's name - when he left his position of power or status or authority over you, why in God's name would you ever speak to a man like that the rest of your life?

CHAKRABARTI: Freida Mock, was this one of the things that you found most interesting about making this film, is that so much of the way sexual - workplace sexual harassment was talked about in 1991, it was as if it couldn't possibly exist because why would a woman tolerate it?

MOCK: Yes. Then we realized one didn't talk about it and dealt with it by avoiding it and not making a so-called fuss. I think the hearings sound almost strange that people talked that way to a person, would ask such intrusive questions. It's only 20 years ago. But compared to what we are today, I don't believe people would dare publicly treat someone that way.

What happened in that sensational hearing televised nationally really became a transformative act in terms of looking at what has happened to the rights of both women and men in the workplace to the extent that there has been reform on sexual harassment behavior, that there's mandated - at least in the workplace - sexual harassment workshops, and the need for people to understand what are your rights, what is appropriate, and when inappropriate.

CHAKRABARTI: That is one of the lasting legacies of the Thomas hearings, in terms of changing the way that the nation talks about workplace sexual harassment. But still, I just can't get away from how different it was in 1991 because at one point - because so many people were questioning her testimony, she even agreed to take a polygraph.

MOCK: Absolutely. I mean she felt that she was speaking truth to power, and her responsibility was tell what she knew about how she was treated by her boss. And that was her responsibility to talk about that, to describe that kind of behavior.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, at the same time, we have to remind ourselves that in 1991 - I would guess - I'd venture to say that to many women, for example, it was a revelation, that finally sexual harassment was being talked about in such a spectacularly public forum. But on the other hand, there were equal numbers, if not more people, who absolutely thought that Anita Hill was lying, that she was part of some sort of conspiracy to thwart Thomas' nomination. A lot of people didn't believe her.

MOCK: Yes. At that time in '91, I think they took a poll. They said seven out of 10 did not believe her, and that included women. But within a year, they said that the poll's changed. And once the people began to think about and understand the context in which she was speaking, there was a dramatic shift and the numbers dramatically changed in her favor. I think people were just stunned to hear someone speak so openly and candidly and graphically about what had happened.

CHAKRABARTI: And we're speaking with Freida Mock, the director of the new documentary called "Anita." You're listening to HERE AND NOW.

And, Freida, I just want to talk for another moment about the legacy of Anita Hill's testimony at the Thomas hearings. And in order to do that, I want to play a bit more tape from 1991, and this is from Representative Nita Lowey, Democrat from New York, one of the congresswomen who came out in support of Anita Hill at the time she was giving her testimony. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED CONFIRMATION HEARING)

REPRESENTATIVE NITA LOWEY: Sexual harassment is painful. It exists. It's real. It's not imaginary. There's not only a gender gap in our country. There's a gender chasm.

CHAKRABARTI: Is that one of the lasting legacies of these hearings, that that chasm maybe has shrunk a little?

MOCK: Well, yes, I think to the extent that in workplace rights, there are policies mandated that there would be a sexual harassment training. And the legacy, too, is certainly now we see this happening and trying to address the issue on college campuses. I mean, we'd known sexual assaults have been happening forever. And so (unintelligible) right now, there are serious policy and, you know, approach to by actually women students to use Title IX to say, you know, these universities and colleges have a responsibility to create a safe campus for young women. So that legacy is very real.

But I find in the film that it was really encouraging to see the next generation of young women activists who have been inspired by Anita. And you see, for instance, young women - as an example, genders - Girls for Gender Equity organization out of New York where they do workshops in junior high and high school public schools to raise awareness about gender issues. And that part, I think, is a real legacy of what Anita, who did not set out to be a spokesperson, I think, for gender equality. She was just, at that moment, speaking her truth. But she has, I think, been transformed by the fact that she is a public figure, and she's heard upon thousands of Americans and people from around the world about this issue. And she has taken on the mantle of being a spokesperson for the rights of men and women.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Freida Mock is the filmmaker behind the new documentary "Anita." Freida, thank you so much for joining us.

MOCK: And thank you very much for having me on your show, and thank you for spotlighting "Anita," the film.

CHAKRABARTI: It's hard to believe so much time has passed.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Mm-hmm.

CHAKRABARTI: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • PoliticsWatcher

    Anybody who stands between Republicans and power will be destroyed.

  • Guest

    I have not seen the film and I am not speaking only of this case, but Ms. Young and Ms. Mock both seemed appalled that anyone would question Ms. Hill’s veracity. Many cases of sexual harassment are effectively a he said/she said situation with no witnesses and certain rules of evidence should still apply; especially when the consequences are so high for the accused. Again, I am not saying Anita Hill lied, but people do lie in court for a variety of reasons, often for the express purpose of damaging another party’s reputation. The questioning Senators undoubtedly could have been more sensitive, but the alternative to questioning Ms. Hill’s veracity would be to believe her testimony without question, which would be equally problematic, if not more so for the precedent it would set.

  • KTPC

    Eh, I wonder when the sequel “Paula” will be coming out? Probably not soon.

    • Tallulah Cusati

      KTPC, are you a part od Paula?

      • KTPC

        I was referring to Paula Jones, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against then President Bill Clinton in which he perjured himself.

  • KTPC

    When she be releasing the sequel, “Paula”? Probably not soon.

    • Tallulah Cusati

      KTPC, what is that?

  • John Hurd

    We’re supposed to automatically consider everything a woman says as true. Like when a stripper accused three Duke U. lacrosse players with raping her. She later admitted she lied, but before she did, all kinds of demonstrations and fiery rhetoric was aimed at the players. Same thing with the Hofstra student who tried to have four innocent young men serve decades in prison after she willingly too part in group sex but wanted to hang onto her boyfriend. That’s a good reason to lie. And now we can consider Anita Hill, who found a good way to get herself “on the map.” Republicans say all kinds of things about Obama, a male. One GOP idiot blurted out “You lie” at Obama during his speech. Nothing too unusual at Anita Hill’s treatment.

  • A Sexual Harassment Victim

    It is so typical that most of these comments talk about women who lie about sexual harassment or sexual assault. Some men just cannot accept that sexual harassment exists because they are probably harassing somebody themselves.

    While looking for a roommate over 90% of every man that I spoke with tried to initiate that after paying rent I’d also be sexual and cleaning for him. Over 70% of every man that I spoke with tried to initiate that after paying rent that I’d also be cleaning up after him and his friends. Alot of men just do not see women respectfully, much less equally. Unfortunately alot of women just accept this insulting behavior. Problem is, I find it worse as I’m getting older. Now it seems as tho some men seem to think that because I’m older, I’m desperate and that I should be “grateful” for the unwanted attention. And of course, there are men who are my same age and older who have said that I am too “old” for them… even men who don’t take as good care of themselves as I do!

    Due to degenerative disk disease it is essential that I receive massage. Although not during the initial sessions, literally 100% of every licensed male therapist that I had in the last year eventually either:
    1) Put his erect penis somewhere on my body during the massage – shoulder, arm, leg
    2) Slipped his hand/fingers into my under ware as tho it was a mistake
    3) Bumped me “accidentally” in the vaginal area on the outside of my clothing (like working on my knees but somehow his elbow went right up into my vagina when I was wearing shorts)

    Just for the record none of the women I spoke to about being a roommate talked to me about sex or housecleaning for them! Also, none of the female licensed massage therapists ever “accidentally” slipped their hands into my pants or bumped my vagina. It isn’t every man. It is a culture of a large percentage of men who don’t have a clue. This letter isn’t to woe how many clueless men there are in this world.

    Alot of men just don’t get it. Just like below how they talk about the few cases of women lying instead of focusing on the real cases of the few women who do come forward. What about all the women who do not come forward? That number must be massive.

    Society must change, not just in the workplace. This is a call to men to stop and change the way they think of women.

    • Tallulah Cusati

      A Sexual, hope you sued everyone of those men, and the company they worked for.

  • rc2132

    The film should not be described as a documentary. It is nothing more than propaganda. People on the left are always amazed when NPR is accused of having a left wing bias. This is just another example.

  • 2L

    Read the book “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas” by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson. The authors are reporters from the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a hotbed of liberalism. Pretty scary stuff!

  • Daniel Cohen

    She is my heroic figure I use to inspire my daughters …and warn them.

  • Bob Gort

    This was a valuable reminder of the character of Alan Simpson, how just beneath his folksy, slow-talking veneer, there is an extremely vicious dinosaur. It was true back then and it resurfaced more recently when Simpson started speaking from his role on Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Commission.

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