Anita Hill to Hollywood’s rescue? That was the theme on the front of Thursday’s New York Times Arts page. Cara Buckley’s Hollywood column hailed Clarence Thomas’s accuser as a movie-industry savior in “Can She Fix The Sexual Misconduct Problem?” The jump page headline was similar: “Can Anita Hill Fix The Abuse Problem?”
Meanwhile, Buckley conveniently ignores the fact that the public backed Thomas’s interpretation of events, not Hill’s, and that Hill lost her passion for sexual harassment justice when it was President Bill Clinton under fire (Clinton’s not even mentioned here). If Anita Hill’s the answer, maybe one should rephrase the question:
As a powerhouse producer for Steven Spielberg and now president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy has for decades tackled some of Hollywood’s most famous monsters: gremlins, poltergeists, T. rexes and the dark side of the Force.
Now Ms. Kennedy has set her sights on perhaps the most pernicious industry villain of all: sexual misconduct and abuse. She is spearheading the creation of an anti-harassment commission, backed by more than two dozen of the entertainment industry’s biggest bigwigs, that, in a stroke of marquee casting, will be led by Anita Hill.
The hard part will be figuring out what comes next. As Ms. Hill concedes herself, there’s no blueprint for ridding an industry of sexual harassment. At least not yet.
Ms. Kennedy first proposed the commission at an Elle Women in Hollywood event in October, less than two weeks after the first story about sexual misconduct accusations against Harvey Weinstein broke in The New York Times. In a speech, Ms. Kennedy said that studios, talent agencies and unions should create and fund a commission of labor specialists, lawyers, feminist thinkers and activists who would develop industrywide protections against harassment and abuse. “I reject the idea that misogyny is the true heart of this industry,” she told the crowd.
For some conservatives, the selection of Ms. Hill was an overtly political one, typical of liberal Hollywood.
And indeed in many ways, given the left-leaning world of show business, Ms. Hill was an obvious choice. She is a lawyer and an academic, as well as a household name, which is important in Tinseltown, and has been a figurehead in the fight against sexual harassment since 1991, when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation process for then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Despite Ms. Hill’s testimony that he had assailed her with inappropriate sexual suggestions when they worked together years before, Justice Thomas was confirmed.
Yet the sight of Ms. Hill sitting by herself as a bank of white men peppered her with condescending and withering questions became a flash point for many women, both a symbol of what they were up against and an inspiration to push back.
“This has been a 26-year fight,” said Ms. Hill, now a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University.
A long fight....that Hill abruptly put on pause for the sake of a powerful Democrat, when she downgraded Paula Jones’ claim against President Bill Clinton in 1998, both on NBC’s Meet the Press and in two op-eds for -- you guessed it -- the New York Times, as recalled by NewsBusters Tim Graham. Hill wrote in September of that year:
The possible violation of a woman's civil rights is not the same as the emotional pain and loss of trust that result from extramarital affairs. Equating the two promotes a form of moral fundamentalism that devalues women and the issues they face and offers only a formulaic approach to addressing them. In addition, many of Mr. Clinton's critics claim that his supporters -- especially women -- are guilty of political hypocrisy. On the surface, the Clinton scandal may suggest hypocrisy on the part of his supporters, but the same can be said of his detractors as well.
Back to Buckley, holding our Hill as a reputable judge of credibility:
“I’ve heard from a lot of men who say, ‘I’m so embarrassed to be a man,’ and, ‘What do I tell my daughters?’ ” [Hill] said. “They want to address this problem. But they’re not sure they are credible to address it on their own. And I would say we now have women who are in leadership positions that can do it. I think that men wouldn’t step out on their own, but will step out in partnership with women.”
The commission is in its earliest stages, but Ms. Hill and Ms. Kennedy said there will be a dedicated staff to research what initiatives have worked or not across various companies, unions, college campuses and the like. There is also talk of looking into an anonymous sexual harassment reporting app, like the start-up AllVoices.