By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Anita from West Side Story? Anita Sharpe, Bloomsberg bureau chief in Atlanta?
Anita….is she the former Mousequeteer who made all those beach movies with Frankie Avalon (oh oops…that was Annette).
So my first question…aside from the insider query as to why nobody knew this was opening here…is, why did filmmaker Freida Lee Mock make the title “Anita” instead of “Anita Hill?”
As it turns out, she was even clearer. The real title is “Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power.”
Maybe it wouldn’t fit on the marquee. Or the movie listings. Anyway, that’s who “Anita” is. And what it’s about.
Straight up and simple: “Anita” is a documentary about Anita Hill, the law professor whose testimony in 1991 came very close to derailing Clarence Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Close – a mere 4 votes – but not anywhere close enough.
Simply seeing the footage of the confirmation hearings – a line-up of visibly uncomfortable white-guy Senators (ranging from Teddy Kennedy to Joe Biden to Alan Simpson, whose “this sexual harssment crap” statement is especially discouraging – is a powerful reminder of how negligible gender issues were back in the “enlightened” ‘90s.
Hey, these guys probably thought they were going out on a limb to support an African-American; what’s this clear-eyed, church-going bee-ich doing here, messing up their admirable tolerance?
“Anita” opens with a brilliant bit of Bizarro World historical trivia. In 2010, Judge Thomas’s wife, Virginia, left the following message on Hill’s answering machine: “Good morning. Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. And I just wanted to reach out across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. I certainly pray about this and hope that you’ll help us understand why you did what you did. Okay. Have a good day.”
The message is so bald-faced and sure-of-itself, you keep thinking it might be a “Saturday Night Live “ parody (It isn’t, though footage of a pretty funny SNL sketch from 1991 does show up later).
‘Anita” cannily captures “The Way We Were” circa 1991, from the grotesque hair-dos and fashions (left over from the ‘80s) to a Washington, D.C. culture that certainly wasn’t going to trade their I-am-no-racist chips for this sexual harassment brouhaha (emphasis on the Ha Ha).
The things they ask Hill are stunning in their ignorance and stupidity. Hill’s grace under fire is stunning as well; no matter how many times they ask her to repeat the word “penis,” she hesitates a nano-second and does.
Throughout, Biden, our VP-to-be, looks as if he’d rather be anywhere but there.
However, the movie loses power in its second half. Mock’s decision to show the seminal effect Hill and her testimony has had on gender issues is uplifting. But one wants something more…biting? More…insightful? In a way, the film is almost too well-behaved.
When Thomas shifts the conversation from gender to race with his heated assertion that this hearing should’ve never happened, that he’s the victim of a “high-tech lynching,” you wish “Anita” had pursued this clash between racial sins and gender sins.
Still, “Anita” needs to be seen if only to be believed.
A tip of the hat to Long Dong Silver….
And to dear old Coca Cola for which this hearing may be the worst product placement in history.
Did I hear someone say “pubic hair on a Coke can?”
A Modest Proposal: Maybe it’ time for a big Hollywood film about Anita Hill? Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave” may be available…