In 1991, Anita Hill riveted the nation with televised accusations of unseemly behavior at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. She alleged her former boss engaged her in unwanted discussions about pubic hair on Coke cans and porn movies starring “Long Dong Silver.” Thomas, nominated by Republican President George H.W. Bush, was confirmed largely along party lines.
HBO now hopes to attract a similarly raptured audience with its retelling of that historical moment in a movie called Confirmation, produced by Michael London and Susannah Grant, that airs on April 16. The film stars Kerry Washington as Hill and Wendell Pierce as Thomas. But behind the scenes, a drama is playing out now that might be as politically partisan as the hearings were themselves. Some involved in the hearings are complaining that HBO has manufactured a hit job against Republicans while the network maintains it is telling an important, non-partisan story about an event that forever changed the definition of “sexual harassment.”
Mark Paoletta, a lawyer in the Bush White House who worked to ensure Thomas’ confirmation 25 years ago, says HBO’s motivation has nothing to do with historical accuracy and is instead meant to sway political opinion eight months before Americans vote for a new president. He cites HBO movies like Game Change, which disparaged former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, as evidence of bias at Time Warner’s premium network.
“HBO made this movie in an election year to support Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, which loves to claim that a mythical ‘war on women’ is underway by Republicans,” says Paoletta, who hasn’t seen Confirmation but read a script last revised in late July.
Paoletta’s claim — made by others, as well — is flatly denied by HBO. “I don’t even understand that comment,” says Len Amato, president of HBO Films. “A ‘Republican war on women?’ I don’t think that phrase has ever come out of my mouth.”