“Confirmation” aired on HBO on April 16, recounting the allegations of sexual harassment brought by law professor Anita Hill (Kerry Washington) against Supreme Court candidate Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) in 1991. The controversy ignited public debates about gender, race and America’s highest court. Twenty-five years later thank goodness none of those are issues anymore.
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But of course those problems are still relevant today. In fact, a quarter-century after the events of “Confirmation,” the film may be as relevant as ever. Thomas is still on the Supreme Court, and the sudden death of Thomas’s frequent judicial ally Antonin Scalia has sparked further debate about who should fill the vacancy. The reasons for the judicial standoff are quite different today – now it’s an issue of party politics instead of gender politics – but the film can’t help but resonate in the modern context, and John Benutty recently wrote about how real-life politics can rub off on Emmy voters when they mark their ballots.
There are also issues of race and gender involved here, not just in how they shape the political debate but how they affect Hollywood. The TV awards of the last year were a stark contrast to the controversial Oscar picks, which were predominantly white and male for the second year in a row. But the Emmys honored multiple programs about women (“Veep,” “Olive Kitteridge,” “Inside Amy Schumer“), while both the Emmys and SAG Awards rewarded people of color like Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder“) and Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black“).
What’s more, issues of sexism in the entertainment industry have come even more to the forefront following the revelation of a gender pay gap that has prompted celebs like Jennifer Lawrence to speak out. So amid those off-screen battles, the story of a black woman fighting for fair treatment might especially resonate.
As Davis said when she won her Emmy last year, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” “Confirmation” represents not just an opportunity for people of color, but an opportunity generated by people of color: Kerry Washington is not only a star but an executive producer, and the director is black filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa, who made a splash last year on the festival circuit with the indie film “Dope.”
It doesn’t hurt that “Confirmation” tells a true story. One thing the TV academy has in common with the motion picture academy is a fondness for biographical drama. The Emmys are especially fond of true political stories: the race for Best TV Movie alone has been won by several docudramas about politicos in recent years, including “The Gathering Storm” (2002) about Winston Churchill, “Warm Springs” (2005) about Franklin Roosevelt and “Recount” (2008) about the contested Bush vs. Gore presidential election. And in 2012, “Game Change” won the combined award for Best TV Movie/Miniseries.
So will “Confirmation” join those ranks? Star Washington is already on the Emmy radar, having been nominated twice for Best Drama Actress for “Scandal” (2013-2014), and she could further impress voters for doing double duty as producer and actor like Queen Latifah did with last year’s Best TV Movie champ, “Bessie.”
Washington’s co-star Wendell Pierce has yet to be nominated for an Emmy, but he could be considered due after years of acclaimed work on “The Wire” and “Treme.” And the screenwriter, Susannah Grant, is the Oscar-nominated scribe behind another true-life drama, “Erin Brockovich” (2000).
But “Confirmation” isn’t the only true story in contention at this year’s awards. It faces off in various categories against “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” “Show Me a Hero,” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” and it goes head-to-head for Best TV Movie against another HBO Washington DC-set political drama: “All the Way,” adapted from the Tony-winning Broadway play about the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
Despite its stiff competition, as of this writing “Confirmation” ranks a strong second for Best TV Movie (behind “All the Way”), and Washington ranks third for Best Movie/Mini Actress (behind Sarah Paulson in “People v. O.J.” and Kirsten Dunst in “Fargo”). Now that it has aired, do you think “Confirmation” could win those contests and more?
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Photo credit: HBO