I never thought I’d see Confirmation since I don’t have HBO, but Dish had a promotion going to get people to watch HBO and Showtime all weekend. The only thing I wanted to see on HBO was Kerry Washington as Anita Hill in the film Confirmation.
Watching the replay of the Clarence Thomas (played by Wendell Pierce) confirmation hearings before a Senate committee in 1991 made me angry. Angry all over again.
I realized I’ve been angry since 1991 about the way Anita Hill was treated. I’ve been angry all this time that Clarence Thomas made it onto the Supreme Court. He’s voted on the wrong side of decisions that have been bad for the country and hurt women.
If the gaggle of men sitting in front of Anita Hill had cared even a little about what a woman had to say, Clarence Thomas would never have been confirmed. But they didn’t.
If they had cared even a little about what a woman had to say, Angela Wright (played by Jennifer Hudson) would have been allowed to testify. But she wasn’t.
If they had cared even a little about what a woman had to say, they would have found and interviewed other women who worked under Clarence Thomas. But they didn’t.
Naturally HBO had something else I wanted to watch. Lemonade.
After I finished Confirmation, I noticed an hour long show on HBO called Lemonade. It was repeating again and again. Curious, I watched it, too. It was Beyoncé’s new album in an hour long video showcase. Seeing it seconds after finishing Confirmation, and just days after the death of Prince created a confluence of meaning.
What Beyoncé has done with this album is challenge the status quo, in much the same way that Prince did. Beyoncé recalls the tribulations and suffering of generations of dark skinned women who’ve been cheated on, discounted, ignored, and unseen the same way Anita Hill was.
Beyoncé’s Lemonade video is filled, stuffed down to the last square inch, with women of color. They stand there looking at the camera. Nothing more. Demanding to be seen. Demanding to be considered. Women who are not dancing, not singing. These women are bold and powerful. They look straight into your eyes and demand to be recognized.
Two steps forward and one step back
Has anything changed? We have 3 women on the Supreme Court now. That’s a big improvement. So we have made some progress.
We have made some progress, but Beyoncé challenges us to face the fact that not enough has changed. The prejudice and bigotry that almost destroyed Anita Hill 35 years ago still harms women – women of color most especially.
In Confirmation, there were many scenes of people listening and watching the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. I was one of those people. Many of the scenes showed women, eyes glued to their televisions, listening to this brave woman tell stories about how a man in power treated a woman below him. The women watching believed her because they knew. They knew what she was saying was true because it happened to them, too.
An interesting side note on Confirmation is that Judy Smith (Kristen Ariza) had a part in this event. Judy Smith is the woman Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope is based on in Scandal. She worked in the White House in 1991. Smith was following orders from President Bush about finding ways to make Anita Hill look bad, but she was also speaking back to some of the bigoted and misogynistic remarks made about African American women in her presence. Surely it counts as one of the steps forward that Judy Smith’s life has been turned into fictionalized prime time drama with a woman of color in the leading role.
The last scene in Confirmation was Ricki Seidman (Grace Gummer) asking Carolyn Hart (Zoe Lister-Jones) who she believed – him or her? Seidman was Ted Kennedy’s intern. Hart was Joe Biden’s. They’d been doing work in opposition to one another during the hearings. Seidman wanted to find the truth, in spite of Kennedy’s reluctance to stick his neck out in a morals argument. Hart was charged by Biden with making the hearings go the way President George H.W. Bush wanted them to go. When Hart answered Seidman’s question, she said, “I believe her.”
I believe Anita Hill, too. I did then. I do now. And I’m still mad about it.
Kerry Washington photo © 2015 HBO Films