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Knight at the Movies: Anita and Saving Mr. Banks; notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2014-04-01

This article shared 2429 times since Tue Apr 1, 2014
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At first glance it might seem rather odd to associate the gracious Anita Hill with P.L. Travers, the famously contrarian writer of the Mary Poppins books recently portrayed by Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks. But consider this: As Freida Mock's new documentary about Hill, Anita, reminds us, it must have taken some kind of courage—built upon an immense set of convictions for a lone woman to face down the powerful group of men confronting her from the other side of that hearing table in 1991.

In fighting for the life of her famous creation, that's in essence what Travers did, too ( albeit in a much more prickly manner ), and seen within a certain light, her story can be taken as a variation on this familiar trope of the movies: the noble but determined woman daring to question the white male-dominated status quo. These lone women—fighting for justice and to have their voices heard above the din—have long been a staple of Hollywood. ( Sally Field in Norma Rae, Hilary Swank in Conviction, Charlize Theron in North Country, and Sissy Spacek in Marie, are but a few examples of this beloved genre. )

Having just watched both Saving Mr. Banks again ( which is out this week on Blu-ray and DVD ) and Mocks' film I won't be surprised if a biopic about Hill is soon ordered. And like Travers facing down the entire Disney organization, including Walt himself, and finally succumbing to the patented Disney pixie dust pelted at her in a bit of revisionist but very satisfy history, I expect the producers of a movie about Hill to take a lot of liberties with the truth in order to meet the emotional demands of the audience.

Or maybe not quite so many will be necessary. There is, after all, that amazing footage of Hill's testimony to draw from where she—to paraphrase the title of her memoir of the period—spoke truth to power back in 1991 during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for President Bush's nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill—who worked with Thomas at the EEOC, and who she claimed sexually harassed her there—made the charges in a written statement that was seized upon by Democrats eager to block Thomas' appointment. Hill became an instant media sensation and was called to Washington to deliver testimony about the veracity of her statement to a senate committee charged with delving into the matter.

Hill's televised testimony riveted the nation. This dignified African-American woman, in her carefully considered blue dress, calmly and purposely backed up her statements when confronted by the all-white, mostly conservative men who all but scoffed at her story. Hill didn't get rattled or angry when met with scorn and derision by much of the committee—she held her own and the David-vs.-Goliath aspects of the arduous questioning and requestioning, amplified by the TV cameras, made millions sit up and notice the inequity of the situation. That Hill herself suddenly seemed to be on trial was outrageous.

The sight of Hill, who remained calm throughout as she leveled these sexually provocative charges while carefully parsing the seamy details as clinically as possible ( the country heard the words "penis," and "pubic hair" repeatedly ) in this "dignified" setting—compounded by the fact that both she and Thomas were Black—galvanized the country. Feminists seized the opportunity after finally seeing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace become front page news, pundits on both sides weighed in and Hill's life became an example of grace under fire.

Although Thomas went on to narrowly win the seat on the Supreme Court ( which he still holds ) and Hill was subjected to tremendous personal invective, she also emerged as a quiet force—a leader whose determination to tell the truth no matter the momentary cost has continued to be an example not just to women but for all the disenfranchised ( including, no doubt, lots and lots of gay people ).

Mock's documentary ( which opens in Chicago April 4 at the AMC River East 21 ) shows us this aspect of Hill's life. In continuing to be an advocate for gender equality, especially in the workplace, Hill has become a role model for a generation of young women—several of whom are shown in the film speaking about Hill's courage under fire.

But the movie doesn't really delve far beyond this and never seems to get below the surface. Although we see plenty of segments from Hill's 1991 testimony, we don't get the behind the scenes story and Mock's film doesn't ask a tenth of the questions that the viewer wants answered. There's no attempt, for example, to delve into why Thomas's wife, Ginny, famously ( and rather strangely ) left Hill a voice message asking her to consider an apology decades after the hearing. The phone message is played at the outset, and Hill talks about what she did after deciding it wasn't a prank but then it's just left by the wayside. Nor does the film attempt to track down any of the then-senators who cross-examined ( that's the phrase, I think ) Hill—or many of the other participants—to get their take on the proceedings and its aftermath.

Mock's film is ultimately uncomfortably close to hagiography and, yet, for those unfamiliar with Hill's story or those who are and want to revel again in the event with all its attendant outrage and eventual inspiration ( of a kind ), Anita certainly supplies that. http://anitahill-film.com/

Film notes:

—The 30th Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival is taking place April 3-17 at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St., and will showcase over 100 features and short films from Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and the United States.

The line-up runs the gamut, and includes a small but discerning assortment of LGBT-themed films. These include the award-winning festival favorite Blue and Not So Pink from Venezuela ( screening April 4 and 12 ) and Kaleidoscope from Chile ( screening April 7 and 10 ). The former is a drama focused on a gay photographer whose life is turned upside down when his partner is subjected to a brutal gay-bashing—at about the same time his estranged son shows up ready with a lifetime of recriminations. Kaleidoscope is director Paulo Paulista's debut feature that focuses on seven loosely connected characters seen in "conversational set pieces" ( including a gay artist who may have fathered an ex-girlfriend's child ). Paulista will attend the April 7 screening. Upcoming LGBT titles in the fest include Dangerous Loves ( from Colombia, screening April 7 and 10 ), Disrupted ( from Mexico and screening April 14 and 16 ). Complete line-up, ticket information and more at www.chicagolatinofilmfestival.org

The fest is also presenting a sidebar series titled "Latino Oscar with the Gene Siskel Film Center," with these 11 films being presented at the Siskel, 164 N. State St.. That line-up presents a collection of movies that have either received an Oscar or been nominated. Everything in the line-up is worth seeing again ( with selections such as The Sea Inside, Amores Perros, Belle Epoque, The Secret in Their Eyes, Central Station, etc. ) One of my favorite Almodovar films—his queer-infused 1999 masterful melodrama, the Oscar-winning All About My Mother—is screening on Sunday, April 6, at 3 p.m. http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/latino_oscar

—Sexy times redux: If you didn't catch the critically hailed French queer thriller Stranger by the Lake in one of its festival runs or at the Music Box, the Siskel is giving you one last chance to see this gay, very sexually explicit psychological thriller ( albeit, of the slow-burn variety ) in a theatrical setting. The movie opens there this Friday, April 4, for a week.

—Pasolini lives: The Siskel has even more queer-tinged fare when it kicks off its monthlong homage to Italian filmmaker Pasolini, the murdered artistic renegade and queer activist, on Saturday, April 5. The 12-film retrospective, April 5-May 15, titled "Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Eyes of a Poet," includes Trilogy of Life ( The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, The Arabian Nights ) and the always controversial Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom. Complete line-up, screening dates, show times and more at www.siskelfilmcenter.org/pasolini_2014 .


This article shared 2429 times since Tue Apr 1, 2014
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