There isn't much Kerry Washington does that I'm not enthusiastically onboard for. But the below photo, this simple first-look still from her upcoming turn as famed sexual assault plaintiff Anita Hill in the HBO movie Confirmation, gave me goosebumps—and a complicated sugar rush of emotions. Here's why:
It brings me back to 1991 all over again. Anita Hill testifying that Supreme Court justice then-nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her is the first media scandal I can remember. I was seven, and I'm sure my parents hid the prurient details from me—ah, for the days when pubic hair on a Coke can was as bad as it got! But I easily absorbed the vibe of the dispute: Powerful man versus less-powerful woman, who remained almost freakishly calmed as other men grilled her, literally from on high, about her story. The restrained anguish in Washington's face here takes you right back to the televised hearings.
Olivia Pope this is not. Now, the hair is almost alarmingly similar to that of Pope and Associates' fearless leader—but that's where the similarities end. I realize now how accustomed we are to seeing Washington in supreme Shondaland tailoring. It's almost hurting me to look at those schlumpy sleeves and gapping waist.
And yet, there's a fascinating Olivia Pope connection here. Hill did not have an Olivia Pope. She didn't have a top-tier fixer who could speak for her, massage her into a sympathetic, relatable character, or mine the after-dark dalliances of every senator on the Capitol Hill panel for irrefutable leverage. Hill had to be her own Olivia Pope, and so it's poetic to see that natural born killer's real life alter-ego—Washington—duck humbly into the role of a victim, of someone she could have saved had she been there.
Career-wise, this is going to be huge for Kerry. Box 'em in from all sides, Washington. If they won't give you the Emmy for Scandal, go 'head and pick it up for best performance in a TV movie or miniseries. There's very little doubt that she'll be nominated, and no doubt that this will vault her into a new class of eligibility when it comes to movie casting. Washington has been a part of smart, important films like Django Unchained, For Colored Girls and Save the Last Dance (I define importance here, OK?), but this is her first real chance to star in a deeply character-driven film. I look forward to Oscar-bait casting directors adjusting their picks accordingly. (Oh, and, by the way, she's also executive-producing the movie.)
Life-wise, this is going to be huge for all of us. Confirmation's premiere date is still TBD, but when it comes out, clear it. Even I, the former freakishly political seven-year-old, will need to sit down and re-examine every detail of this story closely. Today, it's de rigeur for us to parse sexual harassment issues on Twitter and TV—we talk about it enough that we can talk about it just about anytime, anywhere, without the air in the room turning uncomfortable. But it wasn't always that way. It wasn't that way in 1991, when Hill brought her boss's cringeworthy behavior to light without an Olivia Pope to protect her or a hashtag army to back her up. We can be fearless now because she was fearless then. Time to pay homage.
ICYMI: Watch the inspiring behind-the-scenes of our cover shoot with Washington, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Photos: Courtesy of HBO
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