Before There Was #Metoo, There Was Anita

Marta Kolankiewicz, a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Gender Studies at Lund University, will sit down with RWI’s Anna Bruce after the screeningof the film Anita on Saturday night at the Swedish Human Rights Film Festival.

Anita is a documentary about Anita Hill, the lawyer who challenged Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the US Supreme Court, exposing the problem of sexual harassment to the world. It plays Saturday, March 17th at 18:45 in Lund at Kino theater.

We sat down with Marta Kolankiewicz to discuss the major themes of the film and what lessons can be learned from the Anita Hill hearing. Join her and Anna after the film for a discussion about issues of race and gender that come out in the documentary, parallels in Sweden, and connections to the #MeToo movement.

Anita Hill

One of Kolankiewicz’s main areas of interest is the intersectionality of race and gender in social justice and legal contexts. The Anita Hill hearing offers an interesting way of examining these issues, Kolankiewicz explains, because of the way Anita’s identity as a black woman is treated in her testimony against Clarence Thomas.

“She’s not seen as black,” says Kolankiewicz. “Anita Hill shows how black women and racialized women in other contexts are caught between two struggles – their race and their gender.”

Anita Hill was brought to Congress in 1991 to testify against the nomination of Thomas to the Supreme Court. She reveals the ways she was sexually harassed by Thomas when they worked together at the Department of Education. The all-white, all-male committee scrutinizes and humiliates Hill asking her to recount the specific details of Thomas’s inappropriate behavior towards her. Ultimately, Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court is confirmed.

Kolankiewicz says Anita’s gender was more significant than her race in regards to the way she was treated by the Senate. Thomas would go on to become only the second African American Supreme Court Justice. However, he represented conservative approach to issues of racism in the US, speaking against the affirmative action and framing his own life story as of a successful individual’s overcoming in a post-race society. Although Anita was also African American, this seemed to matter less to the committee.

Sexual Harassment in the Courts

Kolankiewicz highlights what role the courts can play in making progress on sexual harassment cases.

“The law has been a very important arena for feminists but also for other social movements that fight for justice,” Kolankiewicz says. “Courts offer opportunity but also pose difficulties in trying to stake claims and get redress for victims.”

She says the law can help attain justice for victims and can produce more knowledge on sexual harassment as more cases are brought forth. However, courts are very special spaces ruled by particular ways in which testimonies have to be presented in order to conform to judicial definitions of harm, Kolankiewicz says, which may complicate the way victims have to share their experiences.

“Once we go to court and engage in law as a tool for our struggle, victims will have to adjust to the ways legal frameworks require,” Kolankiewicz argues. “They will have to frame their claims in a certain type of way – use a certain type of legal rationality, typically from a male point-of-view.”


Even though Thomas was confirmed despite Hill’s testimony, the hearing served as a pivotal moment in the treatment of victims of sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement also serves as a similar type of breaking point, Kolankiewicz believes.

While the effects of the movement can be widespread, Kolankiewicz argues, its effect on legal systems may be unclear. The Swedish judicial system claims to be generally resistant to social movements and aims to avoid judicial activism. Nonetheless, #MeToo has the potential to once again pave a new path in the way sexual harassment is discussed and treated.

About the Swedish Human Rights Film Festival

From March 16 to March 18, 2018 Lund will host the third Swedish Human Rights Film Festival. The festival is a unique blend of new human rights films combined with fresh analysis from researchers and experts so festival goers can go deeper and get new insights on the major human rights issues of our time. The initiative comes from the institute and is a cooperation with Kino/Folkets Bio in Lund. Lund University and the Association of Foreign Affairs in Lund are a major cooperation partner.

The festival is co-produced by Lund municipalityFilm i Skåne, and Folkuniversitetet in LundOther partners include Love Coffee Roasters, Patisseriet, Rå Epok, the Grand Deli Lund, Café ArimanWasabi SushiRaw Food House, and Grönt o’ Gött.

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