Some moments in HBO’s “Confirmation” seem too wild to be true: Did senators really talk about porn stars and pubic hair on the Senate floor?
They did. And those weren’t the only bizarre moments during the fight over Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment.
Truth is crucial to the success of “Confirmation,” which stars Kerry Washington as Hill and Wendell Pierce as Thomas. As writer-executive producer Susannah Grant told The Washington Post: “The movie only has credibility if it’s not espousing one point of view or presenting only one side.”
So how good is “Confirmation” at accuracy? We looked back on the actual facts of the hearings to see how they align with the film.
Here’s what HBO’s “Confirmation” got right and wrong.
THE OTHER WOMEN
Hill wasn’t the only woman who claimed she was harassed by Thomas; several others came forward alleging similar stories of impropriety. While the movie does depict one of them, Angela Wright (played by
Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson reported in their book “Strange Justice” that four women traveled to Washington DC to corroborate Hill’s story.
One was Rose Jourdain, Wright’s friend, who was supposed to testify on Wright’s behalf about how hard it was for Wright to endure the harassment she suffered under Thomas. She never testified, but gave a written statement. Another former Thomas assistant by the name of Sukari Hardnett provided the Senate Judiciary Committee with the statement: “If you were young, black, female, reasonably attractive and worked directly for Clarence Thomas, you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female.”
COME BACK AFTER DESSERT
In one of the film’s more dramatic moments, a group of women legislators from the House bursts into a Senate lunch to urge male senators to delay the confirmation vote and investigate Hill’s allegations. Then-Senator Joe Biden tells the women there’s little that can be done, after which they then move on to lobby other senators.
But according to Hill’s 1997 book “Speaking Truth to Power,” the women who entered the dining room were stopped at the door and told to come back later — after Maine Sen. George Mitchell finished handling some, uh, important business.
“In a scene reminiscent of the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ in which Dorothy Gale and her friends seek an audience with the Wizard and are turned away at the door, the congresswomen were told to go away and come back later, when Senator Mitchell had finished his dessert,” Hill wrote in her book.
Like any good drama, “Confirmation” took some artistic liberties, meshing several real-life characters into one. For example, actor Daniel Serafini Sauli was hired to play Mark Paoletta, a lawyer with the Office of White House Counsel. But by the time all of the revisions were made, he ended up playing a fictional character named Chris Levanthal.
Harriet Grant, who was Biden’s chief counsel at the time, was also morphed into a fictional character after she expressed concerns about the script.
In one of the film’s most shocking scenes, Missouri Sen. John Danforth (played by
Danforth, Hill’s leading critic on the Senate Judiciary Committee, found an effective way to discredit her claims, essentially branding her a stalker.
Though the condition sounds contrived, it’s actually quite real. The term can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of all psychological afflictions, under “Delusional Disorders.”
The psychiatrist who offered the theory to conservatives on the Senate Judiciary Committee was a doctor by the name of Park Dietz.
While in the movie his character is portrayed as sketchy at best, in reality Dietz was regarded as “America’s best-known forensic psychiatrist,” according to a 1993 article by the Los Angeles Times. Dietz was the FBI’s premier shrink, helping agents catch high-profile serial killers. His cases included Jeffrey Dahmer and John Hinckley Jr.
Of course, whether Hill suffered from it — or it was simply used to discredit her — is another issue entirely.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, one of Thomas’ chief defenders on the Judiciary Committee, at one point suggested that she plagiarized one of her accusations about Thomas from “The Exorcist.” During the hearings, Hill testified that Thomas once proclaimed that someone had put a pubic hair on his can of Coke. Hatch held up a copy of the 1971 novel and read a passage wherein a character complains of pubic hair in his glass of gin.
Shockingly, that scene was far from fiction and remains to this day one of the most bizarre accusations of plagiarism in modern history.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AWARENESS
While Hill’s testimony failed to prevent Thomas’ appointment to the Supreme Court, the movie credits her with changing attitudes toward sexual harassment in the workplace.
“In the wake of the hearings the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] doubled,” the final credits read.
According to a 1992 TIME article, a year after the hearings “the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) logged a record 9,920 harassment complaints … a rise of 50% over the previous year.”
A POLITICAL REVOLUTION
According to the movie, in the wake of the confirmation hearings “the number of women elected to Congress was the largest of any single election in the nation’s history.”
The movie essentially claims that the smear campaign against Hill, launched by a bunch of white guys, sparked a new feminist movement in politics.
As the House of Representatives website notes, 1992 (the year following the hearings), ushered in an “unparalleled” decade for women in Congress: “American voters sent as many new women to Congress as were elected in any previous decade.”