The M Interview: Kerry Washington is in awe of Anita Hill
Kerry Washington, who plays Anita Hill in Confirmation, voices her admiration for the woman who almost ended the career of US judge Clarence Thomas
In 1991, then US President George Bush nominated conservative African-American judge Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court.
The nation then got riveted to the televised confirmation proceedings.
At first, there seemed to be no concerted campaign against Judge Thomas but everything changed when a former colleague accused him of sexual harassment.
That woman was Ms Anita Hill.
She was found in a routine background check on Judge Thomas, who was her supervisor at the US Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She told her story on the condition of confidentiality but her affidavit was somehow leaked.
Consider the optics.
A black woman had to testify on sexual matters in front of a committee of white men, some of whom were under their own ethics clouds.
Ms Hill was treated with disrespect by the Republicans while the Democrats sat on their hands. There were no heroes, everybody lost.
Except maybe Thomas, who eventually got confirmed.
Kerry Washington (left), who plays Anita Hill (right) in Confirmation, voices her admiration for the woman who almost ended the career of US judge Clarence Thom. PHOTO: REUTERS
And now, HBO has made a movie starring Kerry Washington (who also executive-produces) as Ms Hill. Confirmation airs on HBO (StarHub Ch 601) on April 17, 9pm.
Washington told M she was only 13 at the time of the hearings and she remembers the arguments in her house as her parents took opposite views.
"I saw my dad have one opinion as an African-American man and my mother had a different opinion as a woman in the workplace. They were in conflict with each other," she said.
"For me, it was one of the first moments where I was aware of identity politics and the intersection of gender and race."
Washington met Ms Hill, now a 59-year-old lawyer and university professor, and grew close to her.
"What a gift to be able to have her in my life," said Washington.
"She's such a profoundly poised woman. You get that sense when you watch the film.
"No matter how hard I could work as an actress, I would never have the grace and poise that she has."
What drew the 39-year-old US actress to the project was a chance to portray a Washington DC character who is the polar opposite of crisis management pro Olivia Pope from her TV political drama Scandal.
"For the past five years, I have played somebody who is a DC power player," said Washington.
"I thought it would be an important exercise for me to explore being somebody in that same environment but on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of access and power, and the courage it takes to stand up against those powers."
Whose side is she on - Judge Thomas or Ms Hill?
"It was really tricky," she said.
"I felt that as an actor, I absolutely have to believe that she's telling the truth. That truth has to be my truth.
"And as a producer, I have to be willing to acknowledge that each person's truth is theirs and be willing to stand behind that."
But there's one thing she's sure of: She wants the audience to take away from the movie the importance of using one's voice, to speak the truth, to campaign for change and to let those in power know that they are being watched and they can be held accountable.
She added: "When they wrote 'we the people' in the Constitution, there were a lot of people who weren't included, initially.
"It didn't include women, people of colour, people under the age of 21 - you could fight a war at 18 but you couldn't vote.
"Through progressive movements and change, and people showing up and having their voices heard, we've been able to have 'we the people' be more and more inclusive.
"I don't ever want to see that reversed."