HBO Films’ “Confirmation” shows how true change actually takes place in Washington, by a system failing those that it should have protected.
Confirmation, from HBO Films, reminds you the simple fact that a large part of politics has always been about “collecting dirt.” Whether it’s deciding to release information on the dirty movies that a Supreme Court nominee has rented or slandering a sexual harassment victim by claiming she’s suffering from erotomania, much of Confirmation shows the process of digging up dirt on individuals that are at times in the middle of, as one senator puts it, “an all-out street fight!”
It’s an interesting perspective for Confirmation to take in retelling the events that surrounded Anita Hill’s testimony of Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court back in the early-90’s. During Hill’s testimony, the film goes into great efforts to capture the various reactions of people hearing the alleged sexual advances and overtures that Justice Thomas made during her time at the Department of Education and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However even with the detailed testimony, it somehow becomes less shocking when compared to the political maneuvering that happens around the hearings as Confirmation portrays. Somehow this makes the entire film that much more uncomfortable to imagine for those watching in 2016.
After all, what younger readers may not remember, Hill’s testimony ended up being a watershed moment in the US in terms of bringing to light sexual harassment in the workplace. These national discussions on sexual harassment lead to a litany of changes, including more women getting elected to Congress and laws to deter sexual harassment at the workplace being put in the books. Yet as Confirmation shows, how we get that advancement has always been less than ideal.
There’s absolutely nothing pretty in showing how “true progress” happens in Washington. Change is only pushed after the worst case scenario comes to fruition. How do we get more women in Congress; by having an all-male Senate Judicial Committee trying to poke holes, and at times even bully, a victim of workplace sexual harassment on national television. How do we get laws protecting individuals from sexual harassment; by shining a light at how sexual harassment can happen even at the highest offices in federal government.
Movies that re-enact landmark political moments usually like to gloss over the sometimes messy parts of the actual narrative. The pettiness and hesitation to “do the right thing” from even the senators that were backing Hill’s story makes Confirmation feel all the more real. Painting characters in broad strokes to show the “good senators” from the “bad senators” tends to do a disservice to the reality of the situation. Luckily Confirmation takes a more nuanced approach. The failure that Congress was able to fully to take Hill’s testimony into account or even to hear Angela Wright’s testimony – a second accuser that wanted to speak out about Justice Thomas’ past sexual advances – was more of an institutional and cultural problem that couldn’t be blamed on a few Congressional Boogeymen. In fact, it would have been a disservice to what Hill had to endure when she decided to speak out.
Because of that, when an embattled Hill looks out of a window onto the Capitol and decides to end her battle over Thomas’ SCOTUS nomination, it’s easy to understand why. For Hill, she was trying to show an aspect of American life for millions of women to which the world didn’t want to believe was true. It’s exhausting to standup against that kind of pushback. At that point, Confirmation makes it easy empathize with Hill’s struggle.
That reason alone makes Confirmation worth watching.
(Photo Credits: HBO Films)