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Kerry Washington: “Anita Hill taught me what fearlessness really is”

Kerry Washington: “Anita Hill taught me what fearlessness really is”
[Photo: Daisy Korpics for Fast Company]

Kerry Washington is not one to mince words, especially when she’s performing eight nights a week on Broadway, feeling under the weather, and yet still has the fortitude to engage in a frank conversation about gender power dynamics in front of hundreds of people.

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During the opening keynote of the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City today, the Scandal star was asked about what she’s learned from working with some of the most powerful women in entertainment and elsewhere. One name that came up was Anita Hill, whom Washington played in the HBO movie Confirmation—which focuses on Hill’s sexual harassment allegation against U.S. Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas in the early 1990s. The real-life Hill worked as a consultant on the movie.

“Anita Hill taught me what fearlessness really is,” Washington said. “She really taught me what sacrifice looks like, and how to maintain your dignity in the face of absolute absurdity.

“What Anita did was she gave up her anonymity for the sake of our democracy,” she added.

The comments are especially resonant in the wake of last month’s very public testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who gave up every last shred of her own anonymity after she accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. The movie Confirmation, which aired in 2016, took on a salient new relevance as the Ford-Kavanaugh drama played out.

Washington, a cofounder of the Time’s Up movement, made the comments while speaking on stage with Fast Company‘s editor-in-chief, Stephanie Mehta, about the power of live performance in an age of increasing digital burnout. The actress is currently starring in American Son, a new Broadway play by Christopher Demos-Brown.

Mehta also asked Washington what she learned from working with Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes, a one-woman TV tour de force. “In Shondaland, I learned the magic of what it could be to work at a matriarchy,” Washington said, saying that women in leadership positions often have more progressive ideas about workplace benefits like parental leave.

“When I told my boss I was pregnant, she literally started jumping up and down with joy,” Washington said. “Her initial response was not, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen with the show?’ She was happy for me first.”

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