The opening credits of Confirmation offer a quick history lesson. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush was struggling to appoint a judge to the Supreme Court to fill the seat left vacated by the first African-American Supreme, Thurgood Marshall. Robert Bork was shot down, then Bush selected a conservative African-American judge named Clarence Thomas. Though not particularly liked (and quite different from Marshall), he seemed a sure thing to sweep into the position. That is until a professor named Anita Hill is called by an aide to Senator Edward Kennedy to ask if she has any comments about Clarence Thomas. The stories that Anita Hill reveals literally shook the country.
Kerry Washington plays Hill quite matter-of-factly. In the actual Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, when she tells in great detail of things like the infamous pubic hair on a Coke can, Washington recites her testimony in a monotone, almost rather stilted way. It is kind of a relief that there isn’t more emotion behind it, because it is grotesquely riveting if only for the fact that the testimony was on live national television (kids, this was before the internet).
The very good Wendell Pierce has the tough job of playing the generally unlikable Clarence Thomas. We get a peek into his domestic life with his (white) wife, the “political theater” of people behind the scenes digging up dirt on Hill in order to counter the damaging testimony. Interestingly, Confirmation never gives a hint, that Thomas felt he did anything wrong. No shifty glances to his wife, or drinking alone in the dark. He feels he is unfairly persecuted, and he is furious. When, in his portion of the so-called hearings, mentions that the whole circus is a “hi-tech lynching” because he is a black man in a role of power, you practically gasp (as do Hill’s supporters), because Thomas has played the race card to the Senate panel composed entirely of white middle aged men.
Confirmation, at times, feels like a re-enactment of the hearings (probably because the power of the testimony on both sides was already inherently good drama). There is some background drama of the political games that both sides are playing as they try to dig up more and more testimony. And the theatrics pulled by the Senate Judiciary Committee, including the tight-lipped Kennedy (played by Treat Williams) and the wishy-washy Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear) is infuriating, as their more conservative ilk are quoting passages from The Exorcist to makes points. You can only shake your head in anger and disgust, because it is clear how little things have changed since.