movie: Confirmation (2016)

I only found out that this movie existed thanks to my current favorite podcast, Another Round, so thanks to Heben and Tracy for that! And so timely now.

I read Anita Hill’s memoir, Speaking Truth to Power, more than five years ago. It was a powerful experience: she did a beautiful job telling her story, and it’s a hell of a story to begin with. I was nine years old when Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings took place. I don’t remember them as something I directly experienced; my knowledge of these events comes from hearing other people (like my parents) talk about them, and from reading her book.

This movie is an excellent follow-up as well. If you’re looking for an education about what happened, I suggest Hill’s book for its level of detail. But if you’re looking to grasp the feeling, the emotional truth of this time period, the movie does a good job. Hill, Thomas, and Joe Biden are all played by actors who come remarkably close to their roles not only in physical appearance but in movements, speech patterns, and mannerisms. The feelings (on one side) of shock and concern and ill-boding about what will come of all this, and (on the other side) of indignation and impatience and real threat unlooked for, are well captured. Again, as someone who doesn’t remember viewing the confirmation hearings when they happened, I spent some time pausing this movie to pull up old video from the real events, comparing both the wording and the delivery. It’s pretty spot on.

All of which means it was hard to watch. I guess there may be people out there who question the truth of Hill’s allegations, but I can hardly imagine who they might be. Not women, for one thing, because all of us women who have lived and worked in the world know that these things happen, and we know well why a woman might not speak up when it happens, as Hill’s critics kept harping on about. It should go without saying, but: I am horrified that we are seeing these events play out again twenty-freaking-seven years later with Brett Kavanaugh. Horrified.

You can read Anita Hill’s own words on this subject in an article for the New York Times: “How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right.”

Weirdly, though, I found the movie less difficult to watch than Anita Hill’s book was to read. You’d think the movie would be more visceral because of its visual and aural elements. But Hill’s writing admirably matches her speaking: calm, measured tone, far from devoid of emotion but thoughtful and thorough. Like the lawyer she is, she is careful with fact and clear about where she speculates. She relies on the strengths of her arguments and the truth. I found this careful telling even more moving than the movie.

In a nutshell? A recommendation for this movie, and an even stronger one for Hill’s book. And a sound shame-on-you for our country still struggling to treat women with respect, like as if we were real human beings, and for punishing and not believing us when we speak up. I hope someday the cases of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford will cause history students to gasp in disbelief, rather than nodding their heads in recognition of the same old story.

Rating: 8 cases.

3 Responses

  1. Well done. Sadly, I fear your awareness of the history and the issues is far beyond most, of any generation.

    My reaction on viewing the HBO film surprised me: ‘OMG; it was worse than I remembered; how can that be?!’ Perhaps a little selective memory; our capacity for living with such rooted failure is limited. Also, I don’t recall knowing such details about Biden’s (and Democrats’) personal failures, although the headlines on that have long been clear. The detail strikes deep, and persists today.

    Another observation: seeing the parade of events in a film’s tight sequence had me observing how many Senate staffers on both sides were women. I wondered: what were they all thinking through this? Likely, each parsing developments with her own mix of denial & personal experience, with little shared context in a society of hidden shadows. Today: a photo of Grassley (still there, since 1991, and now Chairman) flanked by staffers, both women.

    How different would Hill’s testimony have been if she had felt less isolated, if she were more aware of the groundswell ‘me too’ sisterhood & shared experience that emerged afterwards in that mountain of letters she received? How much has really changed since then? With Senate men, not enough. For all the other role players, and a society sitting idly by, we are about to find out.

    • So: interesting that I found the book more upsetting than the movie, while for you – was it the opposite? Or just that the book has faded some in your memory? I remember you commenting on Biden being a bad guy in the book, although maybe that isn’t quite the same observation as him having his own “personal failures.”

      I feel sure that the Senate staffers you’re talking about were compartmentalizing. Nobody grows up a woman in this society without experiencing these things. If they managed to believe that they didn’t share Anita Hill’s experiences, it was only because they’d worked very hard to talk themselves out of it.

      As to your final question, I’m not real optimistic, actually, but you’re right: we’re about to see it done all over again.

  2. […] written about Anita’s story before, when watching Confirmation and reading Speaking Truth to Power (in two parts). Looking back at those reviews, I guess […]

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