On Saturday, April 16, HBO will air Confirmation, a film that retells the story of Clarence Thomas' 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Justice Thomas is being played by Wendell Pierce, who stopped by The Root's offices to chat about the film.
Pierce told The Root, "We're retelling this story 25 years later because there's a generation who knows nothing about it." The story is riddled with controversy, with law professor Anita Hill, played by the film's producer, Kerry Washington, accusing Thomas of sexual harassment.
Thanks to Hill's bravery in speaking out, the veil was pulled back on this problem within the government and elsewhere. Ultimately, there were more women in Congress, protections from human resources departments were made stronger and everyone had to go through sexual harassment training in the workplace. Her mark on history was made.
Pierce said that working with Washington (again—she and Pierce have now appeared in four productions together) was an amazing experience, even though they didn't do any scenes together in Confirmation. "Her performance was so strong, so beautiful and so crafted in this movie and so impactiful, so it could not help but influence my performance," Pierce explained.
And his performance as Thomas was well-researched. Pierce read everything he could get his hands on, including Thomas' book, My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir, along with his briefs and speeches; and articles by Timothy Phelps, the journalist who exposed the story of Hill's allegations against Thomas.
Pierce said, "Learning more about the man has changed my preconceived notions [of him]."
Thomas is a man who has been vilified throughout his career, and in order to tackle this role, Pierce had to humanize him. "Humanity connects us to the past, present and future," Pierce said. He focused on Thomas as a man and on Thomas' relationship with his son to imagine how his son must have felt hearing the news about his father. He said, "You may not be aware of how you're treating others and it may be offensive, but your lack of awareness does not absolve you. You must be held accountable [for] how you treat other people."
So why should we watch Confirmation? Pierce says, "We have to lift the veil and be ever vigilant because [of] gender equality. Sexual harassment, issues of racism are all still prevalent, and we have to be vigilant in our defense of those people who may be impacted negatively by people who hold viewpoints that we don't share—or that we've declared … are not acceptable."
Check out our interview with Pierce: