My Review of CREATED EQUAL: CLARENCE THOMAS IN HIS OWN WORDS
In this documentary, written and directed by Michael Pack, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas tells his life story, beginning with his birth in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, where his family spoke the creole language of Gullah. His mother would have four children by the time she was 20, and his father left the family early on. Later, after their home burned down, the family would move to Savannah, Georgia. Thomas speaks of the difference between rural poverty and urban poverty, indicating that the former was to be preferred. His mother, who worked as a maid, took Thomas and his brother to live with the boys’ grandparents, who lived in a nice area of Savannah.
Thomas’ grandfather was illiterate, but taught Thomas and his brother discipline and a good work ethic. Believing he was called to be a priest, Thomas enrolled at Conception Seminary College at age 16, where he was the only African American. He would leave he seminary after he heard a fellow student make an ugly comment about Martin Luther King Jr. after he was shot. When he returned to his grandparent’s home, his grandfather showed him the door, telling him he was no longer welcome there.
Thomas would enroll at the College of the Holy Cross, which was founded in 1843 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was there that he helped found the Black Student Union and got involved with a group of Black Marxists. He went on to Yale Law School, got married and had a son. The marriage lasted only thirteen years before ending in divorce. Thomas was noticeably uncomfortable discussing his first marriage in the film. He would later marry Virginia Lamp, who appears in the film, in 1997.After graduating from Yale Law School, Thomas was appointed Assistant Attorney General in Missouri. He spent time at Monsanto in St. Louis, before becoming a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator John Danforth. In 1981, he was appointed Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education and in 1982, he was appointed by President Reagan to be the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated him for the Supreme Court.
The film spends a good deal of time on his Supreme Court nomination hearings, for which current presidential candidate, and then senator, Joe Biden, served as the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The film shows Thomas being grilled about his views on abortion, and also shows Anita Hill’s charges of sexual abuse against him, which he viewed as a liberal smear campaign, as well as his powerful response to her charges and the senator’s grilling, which he referred to as a “high-tech lynching”.
The majority of the film has Thomas telling his story in an interview setting. At times, it switches to him reading from his book My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir. The music in the film is by Charlie Barnett. We hear “Moon River” throughout the film, as its lyricist, Johnny Mercer, was born in Savannah. The film includes many beautiful scenes of a small fishing boat navigating the coastal waters of the low country, thanks to the cinematography of James Callanan.
Thomas comes across in the documentary as a man of faith with high integrity. He speaks about “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”, from the Declaration of Independence. He is known as an “originalist” on the Supreme Court, meaning that he reads the Constitution as meaning today what he believes those who wrote it meant back then, no matter how conditions may have changed in America in the meantime.
This is an excellent introduction to the life and thought of Clarence Thomas.
The film is currently showing in theatres, and is scheduled to be shown on PBS in May.