Actress Kerry Washington came to Brandeis on Sunday, March 6 to have a conversation with Prof. Anita Hill (AAAS/LGLS/HS/WMGS) about her role in the upcoming HBO movie “Confirmation.” Washington both produced the movie and portrayed Hill herself. The film chronicles Hill’s struggles after she came forward in 1991 to testify that Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.
Held in the Wasserman Cinematheque, the event was sponsored by the Film, Television and Interactive Media Program and was organized by Alice Kelikian of the history department and chair of the Program in Film, Television and Interactive Media.
According to attendee Rachel Goldstein ’18, the crowd of about 120 students was mostly film students and those taking Kelikian or Hill’s classes, as well as faculty and alumni.
Goldstein said that at first the purpose of the conversation was for film students to see the process behind making the film and how Washington got into character. “There are a lot of acting and film students who would love to know about how … someone gets into character, and how someone develops that,” she said. “I think it’s also for students who are more into politics and the social justice side of things, but are also interested in this process and how it would do justice to [Hill’s] real story.”
Indeed, much of the conversation revolved around the social issues of the day, including gender equality, sexual assault and harassment and race.
Hill talked about how Hollywood can truly shape the public’s conversations, and how important it is to continue talking about these issues. “The art that we are seeing portrayed—and that’s why this movement in Hollywood is so important—it can shape our conversations in different ways. Wherever you are, whether you’re still on the college campus or whether you’re interested in doing litigation, whether you’re … an artist or not, everybody has a role and can address many important social issues of the day,” she said.
“For me, mine was harassment, and now sexual assault and gender equality as well as racial equality. The movements are about inclusion. Art is so much about representation. Everybody has a critical role, and we can all play it.”
Washington commented on how inspired she is by Hill, and that she wanted Hill’s story to become more well-known through film. However, Washington did also express that she does not cherry-pick her roles solely to send a message.
“I do know that my responsibility as an artist is to find the humanity in the characters I play, and I know that I live in a world where my humanity as a woman is something that people want to ignore, and my humanity as a person of color is something that people want to ignore,” she said.
“I’m aware that by choosing the roles and choosing the stories that I choose, the very act of being a fully committed artist is an activist act. It is every time a woman tells a story about a three-dimensional character, every time a person of color tells a story about a three-dimensional character … these are the people we want to ignore in culture, so when you force people to pay attention to somebody that the world is trying to disenfranchise, it’s an activist act, so I’m grateful that just doing what I love to do has an impact in that way.”
Hill ended the conversation with a strong message of empowerment, saying, “I just encourage you to take wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, and realize that you have an important role to play in moving these issues far beyond where we are today, and maybe even far beyond what we have imagined.”