Freida Lee Mock revisits the case against Clarence Thomas in what will be either a revelation or an exhilarating trip down memory lane.

With: Anita Hill, Jane Mayer, Jill Abramson, Charles Ogletree, Chuck Malone, John W. Carr.

Twenty years after a weekend of electrifying television made Anita Hill a household name, Freida Lee Mock revisits the case against Clarence Thomas, as well as the smoldering issue of sexual harassment and Hill herself, in what will be either a revelation or an exhilarating trip down memory lane. All options seem available, given “Anita’s” built-in controversy and political gravitas, even if the crescendo — the Thomas appointment — occurs about halfway through, followed by a less breathless third movement that chronicles the public woman and her continuing fight for the cause she reluctantly took up years ago.

With the full cooperation of Hill, Mock begins tartly, with the now-infamous phone message left for Hill in October 2010 by Ginny Thomas, the Supreme Court justice’s wife: Would Hill ever consider apologizing for what she put her husband through, Mrs. Thomas asks, and set the record straight?

Popular on Variety

It’s an almost guaranteed laugh line, but it establishes one of the bewildering facts of the Thomas case: that some people will forever refuse to believe Hill, preferring to accept the idea that a relatively unknown law professor from Oklahoma would concoct a story against a Supreme Court justice-to-be involving sexual innuendo and repeated harassment. After all, who wouldn’t want to go through the public pillorying that Hill underwent after she informed the Senate Judiciary Committee of Thomas’ misbehavior, which included testimony that Thomas imagined “pubic hair” on a can of Coca-Cola, and spoke to her of his interest in the porn films of Long Dong Silver.

Mock is unabashedly in Hill’s corner throughout the movie. History, and the visuals, are on her side as well: The image of the 14 graying white male members of the Judiciary Committee — the Republicans on the attack, the Democrats petrified of opposing George H.W. Bush’s black nominee — interrogating and humiliating a young professional black woman is almost as appalling as their actual behavior. Mock plucks the right moments from what back then seemed an endless, shameless grilling of Hill, notably Sen. Arlen Spector’s willful myopia and, later, Sen. Alan Simpson’s McCarthyite slandering of Hill, talking of all the calls and letters he’d gotten about her, and patting his empty pockets.

Mock has good sources and uses them judiciously; Hill is, after all, the star. (She talks about everything here but her lovelife; her b.f., Massachusetts restaurateur Chuck Malone, talks instead.) New York Times editor Jill Abramson and the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer (authors of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas”) illuminate much of the dirty business that went on around Hill. Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law professor who came to Hill’s defense in 1991, adroitly addresses several of the peripheral issues to the Thomas case, including the fact that not a lot of black men backed Hill up.

The “race card,” as then-Wall Street lawyer and Hill supporter John W. Carr dubs it, was played by Thomas, and turned the confirmation process around: When Thomas called his accuser part of a “high-tech lynching,” the white Democrats, who included Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy, ran for cover. Witnesses who would have backed Hill up and, as the film reveals, had even been subpoenaed, were never called to testify. Hill was hung out to dry.

But as the film shows, she was never defeated, despite the venomous attacks that followed, and the kind of attention she’d never wanted (contrary to Republican claims, Hill catalogued her accusations against Thomas in a letter to the Judiciary Committee and never expected to actually testify). Rather than shrink from a harsh spotlight, she continues to work as an anti-harassment advocate, something Mock chronicles at a length that begins to seem protracted. But the film is not just about the Thomas hearings; it’s an issue film about sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace, and the oft-ignored mechanics of gender and power. “Anita” may be a tribute doc, but it’s one with real heft.

Production values are tops, especially Lili Haydn’s score, which crescendoes when it should and occasionally rings triumphant. Brian Johnson’s editing is typically first-rate.



Production: A Chanlim Films and American Film Foundation presentation in association with Impact Partner and Artemis Rising Foundation. Produced by Freida Lee Mock. Executive producers, Regina Kulik Scully, Geralyn Dreyfous, Freada Klein. Co-executive producer, Dan Cogan. Directed, written by Freida Lee Mock.

Crew: Camera (color), Bestor Cram, Don Lenzer; editor, Brian Johnson; music, Lili Haydn; sound, Jesse Beecheer, Richard Gin, Bob Schuck, Mark Roy; re-recording mixer, Aaron Glascock. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 19, 2013. Running time: 86 MIN.

Cast: With: Anita Hill, Jane Mayer, Jill Abramson, Charles Ogletree, Chuck Malone, John W. Carr.

More Scene

  • Logan Lerman Jordan Peele Al Pacino

    Al Pacino and Carol Kane Had a ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ Reunion on the ‘Hunters’ Set

    Nearly 45 years after Al Pacino and Carol Kane appeared in Sidney Lumet’s classic film “Dog Day Afternoon,” an Amazon Prime Video series about Nazi-hunters in 1977 New York City has brought them back together. Go figure. “I’m proud to be working with him again,” Kane told Variety at the “Hunters” premiere on Wednesday night [...]

  • Anya Taylor Joy Emma Premiere

    Anya Taylor-Joy on Playing Jane Austen's Clever, Callous Protagonist in 'Emma'

    It was an evening of elegance at the Los Angeles premiere of Focus Features’ “Emma” on Tuesday night. The red carpet was lined with pastel floral arrangements at the DGA Theater, priming visitors to be transported to the ornate pageantry of Georgian-era England, as depicted in this new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic tale. Anya [...]

  • Tom Holland Chris Pratt Onward Premiere

    Tom Holland and Chris Pratt Show Off Real-Life Bond at Pixar's 'Onward' Premiere

    Pixar’s new movie “Onward” marks a reunion of sorts for Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. The two actors, who both have ties to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and most recently teamed in “Avengers: Endgame” as Spider-Man and Star-Lord, play brothers in the animated fantasy adventure. Their friendship has become a highlight of “Onward’s” promotional tour [...]

  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph

    Da’Vine Joy Randolph Praises Hulu's 'High Fidelity' for Telling a Realistic New York Story

    If HBO’s “Girls” characterized a certain type of young, disaffected millennial, fumbling cluelessly around a gentrifying Brooklyn, and if “Sex and the City” used Manhattan as a tantalizing playground for a class of well-connected, glamorous and decidedly 90s-bound women, both shows had one thing in common: they were painfully, inevitably white. “We’re gonna fix that!,” [...]

  • Harrison Ford Call of the Wild

    Why Harrison Ford Wanted to Play John Thornton in ‘The Call of the Wild’

    Joining legends like Charlton Heston and Clarke Gable, who have played the role of John Thornton in “The Call of the Wild,” Harrison Ford now stands next to a CGI-enhanced version of the dog named Buck in the latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic 1903 novel. “I thought the film has a lot to say [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content