Admiring tone in ‘Anita’ weakens film’s review of gender, history

In October 1991 the Oklahoma law-school professor Anita Hill went before a Senate hearing (and TV cameras) to give testimony in the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh, you remember this? The drama of the moment is difficult to forget. Hill was alleging that while working as an assistant to Thomas years earlier, he had offered unwanted dating inquiries, made inappropriate remarks about anatomy, and talked about pornography.

The spectacle was a watershed moment in the public understanding of sexual harassment, and a true battle in the gender wars. From Thomas’s perspective, it was a “high-tech lynching,” to use the memorable phrase he unleashed when called to testify after Hill’s session.

He was then confirmed, by a slim majority, for the Supreme Court. He has been there since, voting with the conservative side and remaining remarkably silent during the court’s public sessions.

“Anita: Speaking Truth to Power” is a new documentary that summarizes the story. Well, one side of the story: as the first-name-basis chumminess of the title suggests, this movie is entirely in line with Hill’s version of events.

Director Freida Mock, who won an Oscar for the stirring “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision,” is not exercising journalism here. This is an admiring portrait, the first two-thirds of which is made up of the Thomas scandal, the final third of which is Hill’s life since 1991 and a series of restatements about how the culture has changed because of the hearings.

Not surprisingly, it’s the early part of the film that is the most engrossing. Hill’s testimony was riveting and grueling television, and it remains fascinating today.

We are reminded of the senators who grilled Hill about the details of her sexually oriented testimony. No matter which side of the debate you were on, one thing united all Americans: the revelation that most U.S. senators appeared to be incompetent fools.

The historical value of this footage is real. But “Anita” brings little that’s new to the conversation, and seems to exist primarily as a kind of rallying cry for awareness of women’s issues in general.

That’s a worthy goal. But we have the right to expect more from documentaries than an attitude that remains unabashedly worshipful throughout.

“Anita: Speaking Truth to Power” (two stars)

Documentary portrait of Anita Hill, with the emphasis on her 1991 testimony before the Senate hearing on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. That’s an interesting piece of history, but the movie is so unabashedly admiring of Hill that it feels less like journalism than a puff piece.

Rating: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Opening: Friday at the Sundance Cinemas Seattle.

More in Life

How to entice a wide range of winged friends to your yard

A Tulalip Bay couple shares how they encourage birds, bees and butterflies to visit their garden.

Beer of the Week: Hazy IPA, 4-Ways

Four Snohomish breweries decided to brew a single malt hazy IPA made with four different hops.

Defunct brewers collaborate on five all-star beers

The new brews will be pouring at SnoTown Brewing during the Washington Beer Open House on Feb. 24.

Stephen King’s ‘Revival’ focuses on faith, lost and found

There are also the side effects of using electricity in experiments on people and summoning demons.

Snohomish County booze-related events

Beer, wine, spirits: Where to grab a drink in Snohomish County

The “Hamilton” marquee at The Paramount in Seattle. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
Seattle’s ‘Hamilton’ is everything it’s hyped to be and more

The blockbuster musical at The Paramount in Seattle runs through March 18.

Tiny book “Tonic” packed with with homeopathic remedies

Tanita de Ruijt’s recipes help support your body’s natural defences and heighten your state of mind.

How to roast Brussels sprouts to crispy goodness

Toss these compact cabbages with toss with homemade sweet and sour vinaigrette.

Ambiguity of ‘The Invisibility Cloak’ by Ge Fei is tantalizing

The story of a man offered to build an incredible sound system delves into odd turns and noir.

Most Read