The most obvious selling point of “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” also happens to be its most conspicuous deficiency.
Thomas has distinguished himself with his silence on the Supreme Court; in 2016, he asked his first question from the bench in a decade. (Three years later, he asked another.) Speaking directly to the camera in “Created Equal,” Thomas is veritably chatty, reminiscing about his childhood, extolling the work of Ayn Rand, smiling wryly at his own quips.
The producers, Michael Pack and Gina Cappo Pack, spent more than 30 hours interviewing Thomas and his wife, Virginia. Simply getting to watch Thomas expound on his thoughts for an extended length of time constitutes its own kind of novelty — a surprise that begins to wear off when it becomes clear that Thomas will mostly be rehashing the life story he already recounted in his 2007 memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son.”
That memoir was a fascinating document — shrewdly evasive yet occasionally revealing. This new film, by contrast, is about as revelatory as a campaign ad. The only talking heads are Thomas’s and Virginia’s; no other perspectives are offered. Funders for the project include conservative foundations belonging to the Kochs and the Scaifes. Michael Pack, who also directed the film, has written in praise of Stephen K. Bannon’s cultural production efforts. “Documentaries,” Pack wrote in 2017, “have been the almost exclusive playground of the Left.”
Thomas recounts the major moments in an undeniably eventful life. He supported the black power movement in the ’60s and ’70s and voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980; his conservative turn, he says, was the inevitable reaction to liberal hypocrisy. Clips of Anita Hill testifying at Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991 appear in the second half of the film, after the filmmakers have taken care not to disturb their admiring portrait of Thomas as a faithful Christian and doting family man. Hill’s recollections of sexual harassment get predictably cast as part of a feminist smear campaign designed to destroy him.
But the overriding tenor of this documentary is triumphant and upbeat. Thomas’s journey is intermittently visualized by footage from inside a boat as it makes its way through marshy wetlands before arriving, just as the sun is setting, at a sturdy dock.
If “Created Equal” is trying to promote the conservative cause, it does so gently, and blandly. The only moment of mild discomfort occurs when the filmmakers ask Thomas about the end of his first marriage. The otherwise voluble Thomas signals that he’ll be having none of it, turning momentarily awkward and taciturn: “Yeah, it was, you know, you live with it.”
Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words
Rated PG-13 for the unavoidable segment on sexual harassment. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes.
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