Contempt of court

Culture | Showtime makes a mockery of the battle over Clarence Thomas's elevation to the Supreme Court

Issue: "The first straw," Aug. 28, 1999

When the book Strange Justice by Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson came out in 1994, The Washington Times accurately described it as a "low-tech lynching" of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The book tried to spin Mr. Thomas's 1991 confirmation hearings as a conspiracy of dunces, in which evil conservatives and spineless liberals put a bad person on the high court. Another lynching takes place next week, when the premium cable channel Showtime debuts an original movie based on the book. In portraying Anita Hill as the noble, harassed, misrepresented, wronged, and dishonored subordinate, the movie ignores the historical record and attempts to paint the sordid episode as an example of male/conservative oppression. It does so with stylistic clumsiness. Delroy Lindo's Clarence Thomas sweats a lot. The movie shows his initial denial of Anita Hill's charges by using weird camera angles, quick-cut editing, and Max Headroom repetitions. Literally foaming at the mouth, he shouts he did "not-not-not-not" harass Ms. Hill. In the one scene even slightly sympathetic to Justice Thomas, his wife finds him on the floor, asking why God is doing this-but then comes vicious sarcasm. The camera cuts to a scene of Mr. Thomas, his wife, and political operative Kenneth Duberstein marching down a hallway to the hearing room, with "Onward Christian Soldiers" blaring in the background. Mr. Duberstein is played by Mandy Patinkin, who was wonderful as the Spanish swordsman in The Princess Bride. Mr. Patinkin is known for his realistic portrayal of a doctor on CBS's Chicago Hope; he spent months researching that role, hanging out with surgeons and witnessing operations. But he made a point of not researching this role and even refused to meet the real Kenneth Duberstein. That way he was able to play Mr. Duberstein as ruthlessness personified. "Is there anything out there," he barks to Clarence Thomas, just before President Bush announces the nomination. "Anyone? Anyone who needs to be neutralized?" The only interesting aspect of the movie is its embrace of the axioms that feminists abandoned during President Clinton's most recent scandal:

  • Men have power, women don't.
  • Men abuse their power even in a consensual sexual relationship (subordinate women don't have the power to say no).
  • Women who don't come forward immediately are prevented from doing so out of fear.
  • When different stories arise, believe the woman!
  • A man who harasses women is unfit for any public office. Feminists abandoned each of these points when Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick accused Bill Clinton. Anita Hill herself said in March 1998, as the Clinton crisis reached a critical phase, "We live in a political world, and the reality is there are larger issues than just individual behavior." But drama, like justice, demands an honest view of individual behavior. When propaganda takes over, movies become dull and strange injustice emerges.

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