HBO’s latest original film, “Confirmation,” is a minor addition to the channel’s recent repertoire of political dramas in the same strain as 2008’s “Recount” and 2012’s “Game Change.”
But instead of exploring the behind-the-scenes operations of political campaigns, the film instead explores the confirmation process of Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Even before Thomas’ colleague Anita Hill came forward with her sexual harassment allegations against him, Thomas was a figure steeped in overwhelming controversy. As a textualist that believed the Constitution must be interpreted as it was originally written, he was accused by many liberals of not caring about civil rights.
Regardless of the controversy surrounding Thomas’ jurisprudence, the Senate – at that time controlled by the Democrats – was sure that he was a shoe-in for the court.
It wasn’t until a staffer for Ted Kennedy found Hill’s name that she ever felt the need to come forward.
Hill is portrayed by Kerry Washington, who doesn’t at all look like the real Hill, but instead embodies her. She embodies how Hill carried herself during the proceedings and how she anticipated the waves of criticism and skepticism that were bound to follow.
Wendell Pierce portrays Thomas, not as a man who knows he did something wrong and is trying to cover it up, but as a man who is sure that he has done nothing wrong. To him the hearings were a political circus, a public humiliation, or in his own words “a high tech lynching.”
Overseeing these hearings is the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear). The members of the committee are all men and Senate lifers: old segregationist Strom Thurmond, Republican yes-men Alan Simpson and Arlen Specter, and failed presidential candidates Paul Simon, Ted Kennedy and Biden.
Biden’s leadership style throughout the hearings was centered on compromise, to a fault. Because of his approach, the GOP members were able to walk over him and Hill was left abandoned.
However, these powerful dynamics and themes of gender and race are completely ignored by director Rick Famuyiwa.
Instead, the main focus that “Confirmation” has is on the personal struggle of Thomas at home. Too much time was spent at Thomas’ Washington, D.C, townhouse as he ignored Hill and the hearings. This came off as if Thomas was the true victim of the entire affair, which is far from the truth. Famuyiwa tried to find two sides to a story that was clearly an all-out assault on a victim of sexual harassment. This doesn’t come from research, this comes from scenes in the film.
There’s a moment when Republican members of the committee are called inside the White House by Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein (Eric Stonestreet) to discuss tactics for the hearings. There were only two ways the narrative could end: Hill’s story ends up being true (meaning Bush nominated a pervert), or Hill is a liar. As history shows, the committee worked as hard as they could to prove that the latter was correct.
Orrin Hatch read passages of “The Exorcist” to imply that Hill plagiarized one of the harassment accounts. Missouri Senator Jack Danforth consulted with psychologists to see if a mental illness existed that would cause Hill to create fictional scenarios in her head.
When it comes down to it, this was not a high-tech lynching of Thomas. This was the Republican Party slut-shaming Hill.
But this was the movie that could have been. I can no longer dwell on what could have been. What exists now is a film that can only be described as entertaining at best, and disappointing at worst.
“Confirmation” is now streaming on HBO Go.