Documentary Review: “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power”

April 23rd, 2016  |  Published in April 2016

Louisville, KY is a town known for many southern aesthetic qualities. Bourbon, horses and poignantly relating to this article, Muhammed Ali. The Muhammed Ali Center exists in the heart of downtown Louisville where it stands tall representing more than its biographically titled occupancy; the center most importantly exists to represent cultural awareness and heroism. A fitting venue for the documentary film shown on the rainy morning of March 19th entitled, “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power”.

Anita Hill is a name many recall and many have mythologized opinions about. In 1991 before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, the entire country watched her soft-spoken testimony detailing her previous employment and working relationship with recently nominated Supreme Court Justice  Clarence Thomas. Her testimony was a crucial factor in the vetting process for the position he has held since that time. The trail was the beginning of a cultural shift in America, initiating the awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace. Hill’s testimony also sparked scrutiny about racial inequality.  The shy southerner in her conservative blue dress, with her family in attendance, was put through rounds of intense questioning forcing her to describe graphic lewd recollections of Thomas’ alleged sexual advances, and his detailed conversations with her about explicit pornographic acts he’d watched in porn movies.  Interrogated by an all-white twelve man committee, led by then Senator Joe Biden, the country watched in collective detail as a “his- versus-her story” narrative played out on a yet to be realized “Reality-TV” hungry landscape.

Directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker Freida Mock, the film expertly celebrates Anita Hill’s legacy and provides a rare glimpse into her private life and career while balancing equal perspectives of the trail from her view, Thomas’ and the general population’s. It details her documented testimony and the progressive outcomes about both social and sexual abuse, still highly relevant in our culture 25 years later.  Why did Anita Hill’s story so resonate with the public? In contemporary comparison we can draw many similarities between her actions and today’s nouveau trend in Hollywood, the female lead.

Hill is the embodiment of the present day cinematic hero.  Or it’s villain. The American taste for entertainment has always existed as an extreme. We love a good success story, but we also love a downfall.  Her character arc is a comparative genesis of Clark Kent to Superman. From humble beginnings on her family’s farm, she represented the American dream. But for every Superman enthusiast, there is a Lex Luthor sympathizer. The all-too-familiar narrative structure of skewed idealism from two opposing sides is now making huge returns at the box office.  What is different now is the singular thread all these films have in common: women facing insurmountable odds in a man’s world, with an inclination to fight for their rights and individuality.

Variety magazine elaborates on the rise of female driven films:

Though the number of female protagonists in major films trails that of men, women comprised 22% of leads in the top 110 grossing films, 34% of major characters, and 33% of all speaking characters, according to research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. The number of protagonists increased 6% from last year and represented a recent high. The number of major characters and speaking parts saw increases of 5 and 3 percentage points, respectively. 

The study’s results were calculated as a number of female-driven films such as Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck,” the erotic drama “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and Disney’s live-action “Cinderella” enjoyed stronbox office results. They weren’t alone. Many recent action-oriented films, a genre traditionally dominated by men, also feature female leads, among them “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and, of course, “The Hunger Games” franchise. (Variety) 

The numbers and titles above clearly prove women can lead large budget features that skew towards a message of feminism. But it is not without its opposing view. Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, spoke on his befuddlement of why audiences fight the idea of a strong female lead in a male dominated story:

Q: One of the criticisms of Breaking Bad that keeps coming up is over the female characters. Skyler White is seen by some as this henpecking woman who stands in the way of all of Walt’s fun.
A: Man, I don’t see it that way at all. We’ve been at events and had all our actors up onstage, and people ask Anna Gunn, “Why is your character such a bitch?” And with the risk of painting with too broad a brush, I think the people who have these issues with the wives being too bitchy on Breaking Bad are misogynists, plain and simple.

The push and pull of two opposing perspectives existed with Anita Hill’s supporters and haters. From 1991 to 2016 how little we have come as Americans, as we don’t know whether to accept or deny a female lead as our hero or villain. Last Sunday HBO Films’ Confirmation premiered, Hollywood’s retelling of Hill’s trial with Kerry Washington in the lead.

Production values aside, reviews are exactly how you would have imagined, mixed. 

Steven Havira: Artist, Actor, Writer/Producer

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