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Sundance 2013: Anita Hill and the power of telling the truth

There exists today a whole generation of young women who weren’t born when Anita Hill, a young African-American law professor, sat facing a phalanx of 14 white, middle-aged-to-oldie U.S. senator.s and testified in a Senate Judiciary Hearing scheduled over Columbus Day weekend in 1991. Composed and patient, she described to her interrogators – as well as to all of America, riveted in front of the TV – ¬†the sexual harassment she had received in the past from then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas. For that new generation of young women, as well as for all who remember the stunning event and recognize the important changes her bravery brought about in the awareness of workplace gender equality, the documentary ANITA makes for rapt viewing.

In the twenty years since those hearings, presided over by then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden, Anita Hill has become, apparently to her own surprise, a feminist heroine, in demand as an inspirational speaker. Filmmaker Freida Mock spends a lot of time with today’s Ms. Hill, interviewing her as well as trailing after her as she gives speeches and receives awards. That part’s okay, if all over the place. The archival footage, on the other hand, is powerful, and stirring, and more than a little shocking, too: Here is one woman, stepping into a mess of political, racial, and sexual power plays, and not only retaining her dignity but also, it turns out, leading a revolution that the men who were grilling her couldn’t begin to understand had begun.

Nice detail: Ms. Hill brings the now-famous blue dress she wore to her grilling out of the closet. Other nice detail: It’s thrilling to watch ANITA at Sundance on a weekend that happens to fall before the confluence of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and the inauguration of re-elected President Barack Obama.

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