It’s been more than 22 years since Anita Hill sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee in that famous bright blue suit – one she could never bring herself to wear again – to make the sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas that transfixed a nation.
And much has changed since then.
But not everything.
“I hope you rot in hell,” went an email that Hill, now 57 and a professor at Brandeis University, received just a few weeks ago from a member of the public. After all this time?
“Yes,” Hill says, with a resigned air. “As they go, this one was fairly mild. But it happens. And it’ll happen again.”
Especially now. The soft-spoken Hill, who still speaks in the same calm, precise tone many remember from 1991, has for two decades been living a quiet academic life, occasionally venturing out to speak about sexual harassment but often declining interviews.
But she’s about to enter the maelstrom again with the release Friday of a new documentary, “Anita,” by Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Mock. After years of declining requests to collaborate on a film about her experiences, she said yes.
Hill says she was inspired by the reactions she was getting from people as the 20th anniversary of those Supreme Court confirmation hearings approached – particularly in 2010, when news broke that she’d received a voice mail from Thomas’ wife, Virginia, asking Hill to “consider an apology.” (That voice mail opens the film.)
“People responded with outrage to that,” Hill says. “But even more, I realized that here we are 20 years later and the issues are still resonating – in the workplace, in universities, in the military. So if 1991 could help us start a conversation, how then can we move this to another level? Because clearly we haven’t eliminated the problem.”
Experts agree the problem surely hasn’t been eliminated. But many cite Hill’s testimony as a landmark event, in both social and legal terms.
Reluctant heroine or not, Hill often evokes a passionate response, says filmmaker Mock, who has accompanied Hill at film-related events.
“I had no idea she was a rock star,” says Mock. “But it’s a routine: People stand up when she walks in. They shout: ‘I love you!’ and ‘I believe you, Anita!’ ”
“She was a reluctant witness, and she remains a reluctant public figure,” Mock adds. “But she is proud to be a part of this journey that she never intended to be on.”
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