Elisabeth Moss will star in and co-produce a new biopic about ex-congresswoman Katie Hill, adapted from the Congresswoman’s autobiography, She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality. The actress has said of Hill that “her strength and work to amplify women’s voices is incredibly inspiring to me and her experiences could not be more important for us to magnify right now.” While this sounds innocuous enough, that comment is loaded.
Katie Hill was elected in 2018 to represent California’s 25th District in the 116th Congress, the most diverse legislature in history. Her rise was important on multiple accounts. First, she was a 31 year old queer woman, one of the “blue wave” that tipped the House of Representatives to the Democrats and led to some important shifts for the legislature in terms of race, gender, age and even sexuality. Hill was California’s first openly bisexual woman elected to Congress. Beyond that, she was a first-time candidate who had spent years as the director of a non-profit that helped the homeless in Los Angeles. With no experience in politics but plenty in fundraising, she was able to run an energetic campaign that leveraged social media to speak to younger voters. Among the notable feats of the campaign was raising more than $8 million without accepting any corporate or special interest money. She was respected for her directness and her lack of formality or distance from her constituents. For this and more, she was elected as one of two members of the freshman class of Democrats to take their interests to the senior party members in the House. She was a rising star in the democratic party.
But for all the fanfare, her career was cut short by scandal. In 2019, conservative website RedState released an explicit photo of Hill with a young campaign staffer alongside a story alleging a sexual relationship with her young employee. More explicit photos appeared in the UK publication, The Daily mail, alongside another story alleging another inappropriate relationship with a congressional staffer, an act that, if proven, would have constituted a major violation of ethics rules set in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Hill eventually admitted to the relationship with the campaign staffer but denied the allegations regarding her congressional staffer. Despite this, she resigned just as a probe by the House Ethics Committee began. During her departure, she stated that she was the victim of her abusive husband who had shared the photos as an act of humiliation and spite (despite his being a part of the relationship with the campaign staffer).
With that backstory, Elisabeth Moss’ comment about Hill can be re-examined. Hill was a champion of women’s issues. One of her major positions was to tackle the pay gap. Her experiences are also an important part of the discussion of women’s issues today. She was the victim of revenge porn, a crime in most states and an act that is humiliating to anyone, let alone a woman in a position of power. She says she was the victim of an abusive husband, a struggle shared by many women. The film, however, is to be based on Hill’s autobiography and Hill is to serve as an Executive Producer. Hill says that “I wrote She Will Rise to try to take back my story from those who have exploited and twisted it.” The book itself barely makes any remarks on her actions and mostly discusses the revenge porn and double standards on sexual misconduct. This smacks of white washing. One must wonder if the film will reframe the story to gloss over her relationship with the young staffer or treat it as some little mistake. Despite the fact that she was a victim of revenge porn and despite the fact that she was stuck in a cycle of abuse, she did still engage in a relationship with an employee who was a decade her junior. In the era of #MeToo, she is clearly guilty of the type of power abuse that has brought down so many others.
Upon announcement of the biopic, her congressional twitter account was taken over by people alleging to be her ex-staff and who stated in no uncertain terms that “Katie Hill is not a hero for women.” Their tweets, while vague, imply that Hill’s behavior extended beyond the one staffer and that she turned the abuse she was facing from her husband onto her staff.
Considering all of this, one must hope that Moss and her co-producers will choose to craft a film that will handle the subject deftly. The film needs to point out the lopsided impact of a crime like revenge porn, the fact that many men face scandals like this and move on easily, and frankly discuss the abuse Hill faced. It also must discuss the wrongness of her actions and clearly show how her abuse led to her being an abuser. There are clearly many details about Katie Hill’s story that we do not know. Little about the abuse she endured is public. The experience of the disgraced staffer is not highly discussed. Hill’s treatment of the rest of her staff is subject to speculation. For all that we know about the context of her story, Katie Hill has to be a tragic hero; someone who we believed in but whose human flaws led her to make mistakes that we no longer deem acceptable in the 21st century. As her supposed former staffers stated:
“What happened to Katie Hill shouldn’t happen to anyone. But this moment requires more nuance, as Katie Hill’s story – our story – is also one of workplace abuse and harassment.”