03:47 - Source: CNN
Flashback: Clarence Thomas responds to Anita Hill

Story highlights

A new HBO movie retells the story of Anita Hill's role in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings

Its portrayal of Joe Biden complicates the Vice President's record on women's issues

Washington CNN —  

Joe Biden wants his legacy to be one of protecting women. As a senator he wrote the landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act and has carried the issue into his service as Vice President, focusing in particular on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses

But there’s a problem for Biden’s optics with HBO’s release of the film “Confirmation,” scheduled to air Sunday at 8 p.m. HBO and CNN are both owned by Time Warner. The movie stars Kerry Washington as Anita Hill and portrays the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas for a Supreme Court vacancy, with the proceedings chaired by then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

Thomas was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to replace retired Justice Thurgood Marshall, a liberal icon. Thomas eventually won Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court on a 52-48 vote.

Law professor Anita Hill takes an oath October 12, 1991, before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington.

Anita Hill herself has spoken out against Biden’s role in shaping the national discourse on sexual harassment, saying in multiple interviews that she believes Biden did “a disservice to me, a disservice more importantly, to the public” by not hearing the testimony of three other women who would have echoed the charges of sexual harassment on which Hill had given testimony.

Update: Biden’s office pushed back after publication of this story against the idea that he wouldn’t allow the other women to testify and pointed out, on page 440 of the hearing transcript is a letter sent from Biden to one of the women, Angela Wright, vitiating her subpoena. The letter references an agreement between her and the committee that she not testify and instead provide transcripts of interviews of her and a corroborating witness. In the letter Biden says it is his preference that she testify, but that there are time constraints under which the committee was operating.

In excerpts of the movie released by HBO, Biden is portrayed as worried about his own image and questioning of Hill’s truthfulness. “I do not want to go after this guy on a sex charge… this is exactly the kind of thing I hate,” says the Biden character, played by Greg Kinnear.

Kerry Washington, the movie’s executive producer in addition to portraying Anita Hill, told the Today Show she was interested in the project in part to find out more about Biden’s motivations at the time. She said it’s a nuanced movie about complicated participants and viewers “will be drawn to a lot of different characters” when they watch it.

Others are taking the opportunity to re-watch the real confirmation hearings and some don’t come away with a favorable impression of Biden.

The popular podcast “Stuff Mom Never Told You”, hosted by self-described “gender experts” Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, recently dedicated an entire episode to the “Anita Hill Effect.”

As the women discussed re-watching Hill’s testimony, Conger said, “the way she was treated sitting before an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, which included VP Joe Biden – it was horrifying … and I think every single woman listening should absolutely watch it.”

Vice President Biden has so far not directly commented on the film. But his office put out a statement about the Thomas hearing, saying the then-Senate chairman fought for “gender diversity” on the Judiciary Committee, “successfully adding two female senators to the committee for the first time in its history.”

The Biden statement also touted a “63 percent favorability rating for his handling of the hearings,” according to a Gallup poll taken at the time.

In a Time Magazine interview, Hill was questioned about rumors that the Vice President’s staff had lobbied to make changes to the film. Hill didn’t address the rumors, saying on that in her estimation “the portrayal [of Biden] is accurate.”

Another podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, hosted by digital strategist Aminatou Sow and freelance journalist Ann Friedman, also recently discussed the role Biden played in the confirmation hearings.

“Joe Biden is evil, man,” Sow says at one point, continuing “First of all, if you go back to the Anita Hill hearings, he stopped other women from testifying to corroborate Anita’s testimony. Which one, is evil, but two makes him, like, directly responsible for Clarence Thomas.”