Freida Mock is an internationally renowned filmmaker, with accolades aplenty. It’s safe to say that at any given time, she’s got enough projects on her place to keep her busy for years to come. She was in the middle of a number of other projects when she was contacted by a friend of Anita Hill’s who wanted her to send Hill a copy of her film Wrestling with Angles: Playwright Tony Kushner – only the friend didn’t say who the film was going to.
“I said, why?” Mock remembers, “She said well this friend of hers is often asked to cooperate on a film about her. And her friend said she was concerned she would say ‘yes’ to the wrong filmmaker. I said fine, what’s her name and address? She said it was Anita Hill and it got me to thinking. I just wrote a note saying if you’re going to say yes to a filmmaker about doing a film about [you], would you consider me?”
“And she called me and said yes, let’s talk. And I thought oh my goodness what’s this film going to be about?” From there Mock began to delve into the world of Anita Hill, starting with her early family life, education, coming to the infamous Hearings and finally the aftermath.
“I had an idea that it would be a story about the life and times of Anita Hill,” Mock says since like many of us, she didn’t know much about Hill beyond what she had seen in the media. “I did feel we were all a bit confused about those hearings and what exactly was going on.”
Of course, there is so much more to Hill’s story, starting with the Hearings themselves. “We almost had no idea what was going on,” Mock points out, “That politically it was orchestrated from behind and by the White House, all those things going on. She was just a pawn. It took 20 years for us to figure out.”
From the moment Hill spoke to the FBI about her experiences with Clarence Thomas, her life was irreparably changed, even if she didn’t know it yet. Hill had no idea that simply deciding to answer questions posed to her openly and honestly would forever change her world.
Mock wanted to tell Hill’s story holistically, but also knew that the Hearings must take centre stage. “There is no Anita Hill unless you have the hearings,” Mock says. “[The hearings] had such a profound influence on millions and the story actually is a little misunderstood from that, me included. It was confusing what was going on. It was very unsatisfying. I think that’s why it continually generates questions.”
Mock set out to make a film that not only told the story of Hill’s life, but also partially acted as the defense she didn’t get to – and should never have had to – put on. “Why would she have to have a polygraph test?” Mock asks, “She just went in to tell her story. She had to have corroborating witnesses. That’s just crazy! So I felt that I wanted that point of view expressed.”
Hill has never spoken on film about the Hearings, nor about the effect they had on her life. As Mock researched, she learned a great deal about Hill’s life after 1991. “I didn’t know she became this activist. She didn’t know either! She was just going to go back and teach commercial law. People are looking to her as a spokesperson,” Mock says of Hill’s move into sexual harassment and equal rights work, including work in schools teaching middle and high school aged kids that sexual harassment isn’t something they have to put up with.
With respect to sexual harassment, Mock feels that things have come a long way from 1991 when started her inadvertent activism work. “I think it’s because people are finally speaking. They feel the permission to speak and not feel ashamed,” she says, “I feel for both women and men it is much better on a public policy level. People’s behaviour is people’s behaviour and it’s horrifying at times, right? But it’s not okay in a public arena, in a workplace.”
Mock also goes on to note that speaking out can be a difficult thing depending on your circumstances. It can be a challenge to be truthful about a boss if they hold the keys to your survival. “Some people will not, as we know, because of reprisals. It takes a really courageous person to [speak up],” says Mock. “You have economic concerns. It’s hard.”
If Hill’s story proves one thing, it’s that despite how hard it can be it’s important to get the truth out there. On the wall of Hill’s office is a print that says ‘Speak Truth to Power’. This is something of profound meaning to Hill and now that Mock has been on a journey to tell her story the phrase has a deeper meaning. “It means that when you are confronted with people who hold the power you must be able to be forthright and say what you feel is the truth and not be intimidated,” Mock says confidently.
The film’s most commendable attribute is its almost stubborn refusal to tell the ‘other side of the story’. Anita is Hill’s story, not a documentary about the facts, figures and feelings of the Hearings. Because of this, there’s no comment from anyone in the Thomas camp, other than footage from the hearings. But Mock hasn’t heard anything from Justice Thomas or his people about the film, and she’s not really worried about it. “I hadn’t thought about that,” she says. “I haven’t heard anything. It was at Sundance, there was a lot of press. There’s been nothing yet. When it comes out in commercial release we’ll see what it generates.”
Regardless of what Justice Thomas and his family think of the film, the damage to Hill’s life has been done. “I think she paid a high price,” Freida Mock says of Hill’s struggle to regain normalcy in her world, but she hopes that her film has helped to set the record straight.
“Hopefully the core story of everything you wanted to know as an audience was satisfied. What was going on? What happened to her? Is she okay? I think people do wonder if she’s okay.”
Anita Hill is very much okay, but her story is worth hearing, understanding and celebrating – three things Anita does very, very well.
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