Anita Hill takes her story to film in new Sundance documentary
Park City • Resplendent in gold jewelry and black-brown ensemble, Anita Hill is having far more fun during this year's Sundance Film Festival than she did 22 years ago in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I can never go back to the person I was at that moment," Hill said during a brief interview inside a lounge on Park City's Main Street. "We grow. We develop. We move on. Hopefully, we evolve into that person we want to be."
Today a professor of law, social policy and women's studies at Brandeis University, Hill speaks tirelessly on behalf of women's equality.
At the same time, she knows her name will forever be tied to those October days in 1991. That's when as a young, soft-spoken law professor she stunned the nation with graphic testimony against then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas, bringing the issue of sexual harassment out of the workplace and into the public arena.
Hill turned down past offers to have her story told on film. In Freida Mock, Academy Award-wining director of "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision," Hill said she at last found a filmmaking voice she knew she could trust. "You feel really flattered when someone as accomplished as she is approaches you," Hill said.
"Anita," which Mock said she appropriately began shooting three years ago on Martin Luther King Day, reminds audiences that, behind every brave face going public, the personal story informing their decision is never far behind.
The film, which received its world premiere Saturday at Park City's Marc theater, walks back into time to tell the story of Hill's rural Oklahoma upbringing. The youngest of 13 children, her parents raised her under the saying familiar to many black children, "You've got to be twice as good to get half as much." The Yale Law School student who graduated with honors in 1980, and was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar that same year, did not disappoint.
"When people ask how I got my courage I say, 'You can start there [with my family], particularly with my mother,' " Hill said.
It also moves forward into Hill's current life and long-term relationship with Chuck Malone, a man who first charmed her with an offer of a glass of wine.
Always at the center, though, is Hill's testimony against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas. It defined her, but also limited her.
In one of the film's most striking moments, Hill examines the original blue dress she wore during the hearings. It's a dress she's never worn since, and can never imagine wearing again.
"For one, it doesn't fit," said Hill, laughing. "The other issue is that I was someone before 1991, and I'm someone since then. The dress locks me into a place and moment, and I don't think that's fair either to me, or the issues."
But as sexual harassment cases brought into court by women continue, Hill makes it clear she will be there both as spokeswoman and figurehead. In basement file cabinets, she keeps 25,000 letters that she's received over the years, both from women with accounts of harassment they suffered and fathers upset over what their daughters have had to endure in the workplace. Mock's camera travels with Hill to workshops and conferences where she offers her voice and inspiration.
"I still see people who cry when they see me, or they go back to that place where they're really angry," Hill says in the film.
Outside the film, and sitting beside Mock as both wait for their next media interview, Hill rebuffs anyone who still sees her 1991 testimony through a partisan lens.
"People are no longer willing to chalk it [sexual harassment] up to a difference in politics," she said. "It's not about that. It's about the human experience."
When • Saturday, 9:15 p.m.
Where • Holiday Village Cinema 2, Park City
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