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Kerry Washington Talks Intersectionality, Political Agendas, and HBO’s Confirmation

kerry washington confirmation

For American women of my generation, Anita Hill testifying at Clarence Thomas’ 1991 Supreme Court nomination hearings about the sexual harassment she experienced at his hands was one of the first major public events we experienced that taught us that sexism was real. It taught us that a man can be accused of victimizing a woman, and he can be rewarded for it by becoming a justice on the Supreme Court. This Saturday, HBO releases Confirmation, a film that depicts those hearings starring Kerry Washington as Anita Hill.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Washington talks about being a teenage girl during the hearings and learning about intersectionality for the first time, as well as the accusations that Confirmation is an example of “anti-Republican propaganda.”

Growing up in a black family as these hearings were unfolding, Washington had a front row seat to how differently black men and women responded to the hearings based on race and gender. “My dad felt one way about watching this African-American man have his career and reputation stripped and maligned publicly by this panel of older white men,” Washington explains. “And my mother felt equally pulled in the direction of Anita Hill and listening to this professional African-American woman talk about the challenges she faced. I was really struck by my own sense of intersectionality and the awareness of belonging to more than one community and those instances where they may at times be at odds with each other.”

In addition to starring in the film, Washington also acted as an Executive Producer, meaning that she was heavily involved in shaping the piece and taking part in the interviews with the real-life people on which this is based, especially Hill. Despite being pulled in the directions of race and gender (and possibly a third direction as a liberal), Washington insists that the goal of the film was to make all the players involved three-dimensional people, not stock characters standing in for ideas in a film expressing her political agenda.

“I was reading [Hill’s] memoirs, but I was also reading Clarence Thomas’ memoir and a lot of books about the period,” she says. “Part of why we were approaching it in that way was because one of our goals — and our intentions in the very beginning — was to tell as balanced a story as we could. We wanted to take these people who had become ideological, iconic symbols — like Joe Biden, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill — and uncover the humanity for people so that they weren’t just symbols. But they were complicated, three-dimensional human beings. That had to happen in the writing, in the casting and in the execution of the film.”

Washington’s greatest hope is that people will watch Confirmation and remember that our government only works as well as our participation in it. That a large part of the corruption in our government is allowed to exist and fester because of our apathy. Some of her favorite moments in the film involve the times when the any of the players — Hill, Thomas, or Joe Biden — are talking, and phones ring in congressional offices.

“That’s the American people calling in for congressmen to say, “I’m not happy” or “I have an opinion about this, and I need to be heard,”” she enthuses. “We’re lucky to live in a representational democracy where our government’s job is to represent us. We put them in office, and they’re supposed to represent us. And that’s one of the important reminders in the film: that they can’t do their jobs unless we are showing up with our voices. Unless we are voting, making phone calls and participating in the process, our representational bodies won’t know how to represent us and won’t do their jobs well. We have to be part of the process.”

For the rest of this interview, check it out over at The Hollywood Reporter. Confirmation premieres on HBO this Saturday!

(image via HBO)

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