Twenty five years ago, a black female law professor sat before a committee of white male politicians and told them she had been sexually harassed by a black judge, Clarence Thomas, who had been nominated to the Supreme Court.
It did not go well for Anita Hill. Then again, it didn’t go so well for America, either.
Like the tremendously successful “American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson,” HBO’s new film, the ultra-sharp “Confirmation,” is a look back at the muddled ’90s, when racism and sexism were shockingly overt, and one could be used to undercut or confuse the other on the public stage.
Anita Hill (an impressive Kerry Washington) did not ask to testify against Thomas (Wendell Pierce), her former boss. Instead, a senate aide (Grace Gummer) tracked her down and implored her to come forward. Soon enough, Hill found herself awash in media attacks, political infighting and racial and sexist slurs.
Hill had witnesses — including a judge — who testified that she had complained about the harassment at the time. Another former Thomas employee (Jennifer Hudson) came forward to testify that she was harassed, but was not allowed to do so.
That’s because Thomas derailed the proceedings when he told the committee — led by Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear), though little leadership is evident — that he was being subjected to a “lynching,” expertly playing the race card and painting himself the victim.
All of this played out in full awful glory on America’s televisions. The sting of “Confirmation” isn’t how poorly the system worked then; it’s how little things have changed since. Look at the Republican frontrunner for the presidency. Sadly, racism and sexism seem to be American constants.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
8 p.m. Saturday