PARK CITY, UTAH—A beaming Anita Hill, surrounded by family members and supporters, received a standing ovation and cheers from a Sundance audience Saturday after the world premiere of Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Mock’s documentary Anita: Speaking Truth to Power.
The nine hours of Hill’s 1991 televised testimony before the U.S. Senate committee about Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’s workplace sexual harassment forms the backdrop of the documentary. But it’s the 20 years that followed that give the doc its dramatic, disturbing and often triumphant timbre.
The images of the petite, well-spoken black law professor in a blue dress that make up much of the first half of Mock’s film show a woman who displays astonishing grace under grilling from a Senate committee of 14 white men—many of whom were out to see her exposed as a bitter woman with a chip on her shoulder and a liar.
But the fallout from Hill’s testimony came with a personal cost that was hard for her to bear. She was pilloried more often than she was praised, but there’s evidence of how highly she valued her supporters with a shot of some 25,000 letters of support carefully filed in metal cabinets in her basement.
Hill is just as forthright and candid talking to Mock’s camera as she was the Senate panel, speaking without eliciting sympathy about what telling the truth cost her.
Although the years have made her face rounder and added grey to her hair, the 56-year-old Hill is remarkably unchanged physically and personally. Justice remains her main motivator, whether in the classroom or in working with a generation of young women whose mothers found their voices to stand up to harassers, thanks to Hill.
The doc ends on a triumphant note with clips of Hill continuing to work for gender equality, being welcomed like a rock star when she enters the room.
As for that blue dress, we find out what happened to it as the credits roll, a charming, lighthearted moment that would have been better used in the body of the doc, rather than risk people missing it in inevitable stampede up theatre aisles.
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