The first half of writer-director Michael Pack’s documentary “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” offers an involving, eye-opening look at the early life of Clarence Thomas as told directly to the camera by the famously taciturn, staunchly conservative Supreme Court justice, with input from wife Virginia.
Backed by evocative period footage and photos, Thomas, 71, stirringly, soberly recalls his hardscrabble upbringing with his hard-nosed grandpa in Jim Crow-era Georgia; Catholic school and seminary educations; antiwar, Black Power-supporting college days at Holy Cross; a stretch as “a lazy libertarian” at Yale Law School; first marriage (it ended in divorce; Thomas doesn’t give the details); and then the steady personal and professional tack to the right that eventually led to a Supreme Court nomination by George H.W. Bush. It’s a fascinating trajectory.
But the one-sided film’s wheels come off when covering Thomas’ fraught 1991 Senate confirmation hearings (the NAACP and women’s groups were among his detractors), which were further scarred by sexual harassment charges from former colleague Anita Hill. Thomas unbecomingly displays no small amount of anger, defensiveness and sanctimony in relitigating her claims, while also bristling about the hearing’s presiding Democrats, most notably then-Judiciary Committee Chair Joe Biden.
With its shrewdly chosen archival clips and lack of opposing voices, this lengthy, often tone-deaf section (especially from today’s #MeToo vantage point) plays as if Thomas simply wanted his say for a new generation and got it — as both judge and jury. Still, the film should score with its intended audience.
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 8; AMC Rolling Hills 20, Torrance; AMC Orange 30