Anita Hill Will Lead a Commission to Check Sexual Abuse in Hollywood

Anita Hill at the 2016 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Image via Getty.
Anita Hill at the 2016 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Image via Getty.

Tinged with a whiff of still-faraway justice, a new Hollywood commission on sexual harassment has appointed attorney and law professor Anita Hill as its chair. Hill’s story has been a symbol of cultural reevaluation lately, as her famed egregiously-run 1991 Senate Judiciary hearings beg for atonement now more than ever. (Her sexual harassment claims against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas–which were unwittingly leaked to the press–resulted in humiliating interrogation involving porn, breast and penis size, by 14 white men questioning whether she had a “zealoting civil rights” agenda in blocking Thomas’s appointment). As head of the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, Hill be leading a “comprehensive strategy” to address workplace harassment in the entertainment industry.


According to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, who spearheaded the initiative:

The Commission will not seek just one solution, but a comprehensive strategy to address the complex and inter-related causes of the problems of parity and power. The fact that so many industry leaders—across film, television, music, digital, unions, agencies, ATA, AMPAS, television academy and guilds—came together, in one room, to explore solutions speaks to a new era.

The commission was announced after a meeting held by Kennedy, Nike Foundation founder and co-chair Maria Eitel, Hollywood attorney Nina Shaw, and venture captialist Freada Kapor Klein.

The meeting was attended by leaders of organizations such as the Academy Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Disney, Netflix, Warner Bros, Amazon, and CBS, who’ve had to make very public, very big decisions lately thanks to names like Weinstein, Spacey, Ratner, Price, Tambor, and Rose, to name a few. (The full list includes representatives from Atlantic Records, the Recording Academy NARAS, Sony, the Producers Guild of America, Universal Music Group, the Directors Guild of America, Motion Picture & TV Production/IATSE 4th international, the Television Academy, Paramount, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, UTA, ICM Partners, the Writers Guild of America, the CAA, Alliance Motion Picture and Television Producers, and William Morris Endeavor.)

It’s unclear exactly how the commission will work, but Hill states that they “will be focusing on issues ranging from power disparity, equity and fairness, safety, sexual harassment guidelines, education and training, reporting and enforcement, ongoing research, and data collection.”

When Kathleen Kennedy floated the idea in October, she spoke about the need for “zero tolerance policies” for sexual harassment and assault and a system where victims can report claims without fear of professional retribution. Kennedy proposed that the commission be funded by the industry and comprised of HR professionals, lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, and feminist activists and theorists, and general entertainment industry people, according to the Hollywood Reporter.


It sounds like we will not be getting a draconian penis-obsessed tribunal, because it’s not the senate, but instead something more like a more permanent industry-wide platform for dealing with assault and harassment to replace the current system of case-by-case company bases. “It is time to end the culture of silence,” Hill said in her statement. “I’ve been at this work for 26 years. This moment presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to make real change.”


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Who Hill was, and what she said, attracted vicious hostility at the time. She presented herself as exceedingly professional and unprovocative (her teal suit was conservatively cut, her bob was appropriately news-anchor-shaped, and her lipstick was sufficiently muted), but her mere presence was still offensive. It was offensive to Judiciary Committee members such as Arlen Specter, who said that Hill was suffering from fantasies about sexual harassment because Thomas had supposedly rejected her, and to Joe Biden, then a senator, who just wanted Hill to go away. It was offensive to pundits such as David Brock, who, in a 1992 article for The American Spectator, called her “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” And it was offensive to Thomas, who throughout the hearings expressed incredulity that he was actually being held accountable for his alleged lewd harassment of Hill when they worked at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.