Panel leads discussion after screening of “Anita.” // Photo by Grace McCarthy
Oscar-winning director Freida Lee Mock led a conversation following the screening of her film “ANITA: Speaking Truth to Power,” to a sold-out crowd at Mount Baker Theatre on Friday, April 12. Mock’s panel answered questions from community members discussing topics on systemic change in dealing with sexual misconduct, gender roles and Mock’s work in the film industry.
The event was part of the third annual CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival which took place from Thursday, April 11 to Sunday, April 14.
Executive director of CASCADIA Cheryl Crooks said Mock was selected as this year’s honored guest because of her career achievements and work encouraging women in the film industry.
“Anita” follows the 1991 workplace sexual harassment allegations from Anita Hill, an African American then-professor at the University of Oklahoma, against Clarence Thomas, a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Hill’s testimony was criticized for the insensitive handling by the Senate Judiciary Committee, who confirmed Thomas in 1991.
The panel also included Audrey Sager, vice president of CASCADIA, and Ana Cecilia Lopez, an associate law professor at Fairhaven.
“This film was a really relevant, powerful film that spoke to a lot of people,” Crooks said.
Mock is best known for her 1994 Oscar-winning film “Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision” and her position as a governor of the Documentary Branch for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Mock and her husband, Terry Sanders, also co-founded The American Film Foundation, which serves as a non-profit committed to educational film production, according to its website.
“I have not gained anything except knowing that I came forward and did what I felt that I had an obligation to do and that was to tell the truth,” Hill said during her 1991 testimony.
Hill is now a law professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts and serves as chair of the Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality.
The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2013, prior to the 2018 sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court. The #MeToo movement, where people shared their experiences of sexual misconduct on social media, also became viral in 2017 following Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment allegations.
During the panel, Mock said the #MeToo movement was a rude awakening that showed what was thought to be systematic change from Hill’s testimony was only superficial.
Yeshaia Van Leeuwen, a third-year student in the law, diversity and justice program at Fairhaven, said the film reminded him of the minimal progress made in regards to responding to allegations of sexual assault and harassment since the ’90s.
“The biggest institution in our community is Western Washington University, and we’ve seen how little the administration has done to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment at the university level,” Van Leeuwen said.
Van Leeuwen said he’d like to see more community members support students, who are often overloaded with work and school, to bring change to Western.
“They can hold the institution accountable in ways that I can’t with their money, with their voices that actually stay here and don’t leave in four years,” Van Leeuwen said.
Crooks said Hill opened the door for discussion on sexual misconduct to the public.
“She will go down as one of the most impactful women in American history,” Crooks said.
The recent social movements against sexual misconduct have empowered women to continue the work Hill began, Mock said.
“What’s positive, I think, is that because of social media and the fact that people are speaking out [about sexual misconduct],” Mock said, “People are feeling a sense of solidarity and a safety in numbers.”
“G-Dog,” a film also directed by Mock about a Jesuit priest who works to transform the lives of gang members in East Los Angeles, screened Sunday, April 14 at the Pickford Film Center at 1 p.m..