Alyssa Milano Describes Being in the Room for Ford-Kavanaugh Hearing: "There Was a Lot of Rage"
The actress and prominent #MeToo activist, who attended Thursday's hearing, tells The Hollywood Reporter how the mood shifted from a "feeling of hope" to one of anger during Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh's Senate testimonies.
Alyssa Milano had a unique vantage point during the riveting Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testimonies. The actress and #MeToo activist was in the room when the Supreme Court nominee and his sexual assault accuser shared their conflicting stories before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
"I wasn’t there with any political agenda. I was there to support a survivor of sexual assault," Milano tells The Hollywood Reporter on Friday morning. "As a survivor, it literally is all of our worst nightmares come true. This is exactly the reason why we don’t come forward, or we don’t report. Because of the scrutiny. Because a man’s word will always mean more than our word. And it’s disgusting."
Milano attended the hearing as a guest of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's and her presence became a much-talked-about moment on social media, as millions of people tuned into what has become a high-stakes and divisive confirmation process for President Trump's high-court nominee.
An outspoken supporter of Ford's ever since the allegations against Kavanaugh first surfaced, Milano had written an op-ed ahead of Thursday's hearing explaining why she waited to report her own sexual assaults, which happened when she was a teenager. "I believe Christine Blasey Ford, and I demand that our senators vote to reject Brett Kavanaugh as the next justice on the Supreme Court," she wrote.
Now, as the Senate panel prepares to vote on Kavanaugh's fate, Milano takes THR inside the courtroom to describe how the mood went from hopeful to one of rage during the nearly nine-hour televised event, and shares her first-hand takeaways from the extraordinary, emotional day: "I needed to be there to prove that a man’s misogyny should not take precedence over a survivor’s humanity."
Are you still in Washington, D.C.?
I am. I’m about to go to a protest in front of the Supreme Court.
How did you come to be a guest of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's at the hearing?
I’ve been in touch with her office for the last 18 months on various issues, and once it was announced that they were going to be reopening the hearing, she asked if I would like to come be her guest.
What were your conversations like with Sen. Feinstein in terms of the expectations ahead of Thursday?
I think everybody was really hopeful. The energy in that room in the morning was very hopeful. It was coming from a place of support. I was sitting next to Sen. Gillibrand and my dear friend, Congresswoman Maloney was across from me. Fatima Goss Graves [president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center] and [#MeToo founder] Tarana Burke were behind me. We all needed to be there to support Dr. Ford and it was definitely a feeling of hope. Throughout her testimony, what you could not see as someone watching at home were the senators on the Republican side being disengaged, looking at their cell phones. I felt they were so worried about the optics of white men asking a woman questions about her sexual assault and it just made them look worse, in my opinion. It made them look like they didn’t care. It gave them the opportunity to disengage, not be present and not have to look her in the eye or feel any sort of sympathy. I also feel like having a female counsel there was a really great opportunity that if it didn’t work in their favor they would be able to blame a woman.
You had a different vantage point being in the room.
My best friend who is with me told me that Kavanaugh was doing that thing with his tongue? And I couldn’t see any of that. Everything was from behind. So I was seeing under the table that his knee was bobbing up and down. I could see him breathing heavy. And then I could obviously feel and hear his anger and rage.
You were right over his shoulder on the TV feeds. Did you know you were going to be visible and in that seat?
No. I was in the seat next to that seat before. Sen. Gillibrand had left because she had meetings and a staffmember came over to me and said, “You should sit here.” So I just moved over.
You were documenting the testimonies on your phone and posting on social media, and you also had a sign. How were you able to get that in?
I completely forgot that sign was even on my clipboard. I had protested the day before and when I took my clipboard — it was funny — the cop came over to me and said, “You’re going to have to put that away.” Then I looked at the back and apologized. When I asked if he wanted to take it, he told me no. Just to rip it off and put it on the floor. So that’s what happened there. There were reports that my phone was confiscated, which is false. I got a warning about taking video, but my phone was never taken away from — which is clear by the amount of times I tweeted!
So they were fine with you posting, they just didn’t want you taking videos?
Exactly. He was very nice about it. Everyone in that room was very respectful.
The reaction to you being there showed the partisan divide on social media. The left praised you; the right said your presence added to the “circus” of it all. How do you feel about those reactions?
I think it proves we are truly calcified and fossilized in our political views. But I wasn’t there with any political agenda. I was there to support a survivor of sexual assault. And I felt like I needed to be there to show that support and be there to prove that a man’s misogyny should not take precedence over a survivor’s humanity.
Are you happy you went?
Yes. Of course. I wouldn’t be able to speak intelligently about the experience or about what happened had I not been in the room. I would have been asked questions regardless. Today, I would have been doing interviews about this, if I had stayed home or if I had gone in the room. But I feel that being in the room enables me to answer those questions better.
What was the mood like in the room during each testimony?
Dr. Ford’s testimony was painful and hard to sit through. I was most taken by how eloquently she was able to describe the things that she remembered. Any survivor of sexual assault can relate to certain things that will be a part of you forever. The fact that she wore a one-piece bathing suit. The fact that she described the sounds in that hallway, going down the stairs so vividly. After her testimony, there was a sigh of relief. I think she looked relieved when she was walking out of the hearing room — that the testimony was behind her and over. I think there was a sense of pride with the women that were in the crowd, that she was brave enough to come forward and to tell her story.
And I can honestly say it was the absolute, polar opposite of when Kavanaugh spoke. When he spoke, there was a lot of rage in the room. Not only from him, but also from the Republican party. I felt like the Democrats didn’t really know how to respond to that rage in a way that was effective and impactful. The fact that the Republicans abandoned counsel and started asking him their own questions is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. I think they thought this woman they needed to bring in to question Dr. Ford wasn’t being as effective against a man. There was a look of either sympathy or just being super connected to what Kavanaugh was saying from the Republican side during his testimony that didn’t exist during Dr. Ford’s testimony. To me, that implied that they came in knowing what their vote was going to be.
And then just my personal opinion about his testimony, I think that if a woman had acted like that during a line of questioning, she would be considered hormonal or unhinged, or that she was having a total meltdown. Hatch calling her an "attractive" woman is fairly disgusting. But again, doesn’t surprise me. Because people were commenting on what I was wearing and my physical appearance. So I think those two things are very telling. I think that Kavanaugh proved without a doubt — and anyone that is going to say otherwise is denying themselves sincerity — that he does not have the temperament to sit on the Supreme Court. He proved that he would not be unbiased.
What stood out to you most during his testimony?
The most telling thing about his testimony — however impactful and compelling his opening statements were — was that during his Q&A, to me, he did not answer one question. He was clearly unwilling to have an FBI investigation. I feel like any person who was innocent would insist upon vindication. If he feels that his reputation is permanently destroyed, as he said, why is he not bringing any defamation claims against people that he is accusing of lying? And then just trivial things. I don’t think any human being on the planet thinks that a “Devil’s Triangle” [a mention in his yearbook] is actually a drinking game. We all know what “boofing” is. All of that, I think was a bunch of bullshit. And I think what the Democrats were asking for, although softly — I wish they were more visibly enraged — is not out of the realm of what should be asked for, like complete disclosure of all the documents. We heard today that they asked for [Kavanaugh's friend and alleged witness] Mark Judge to be subpoenaed. Postponing the vote until there’s a real investigation where many witnesses could be called, and not just a he said-she said type of situation; eyewitnesses, expert witnesses. Even though Kavanaugh was blaming Dr. Ford of being a partisan operation, to me, he was the one that seemed like he was a partisan operative.
What is one question you would like to still ask Kavanaugh?
Why is he so opposed to an FBI investigation if he’s an innocent man? Why wouldn’t he want an FBI investigation? They needed to keep drilling it. And also, that question that Cory Booker asked was really important. Which was: "Do you wish that she had never come forward?" Kavanaugh skirted around that in his answer, he sort of filibustered it.
As a sexual assault survivor yourself, how do you feel Dr. Ford was treated by the panel?
I thought that counsel was brought in so she did not have to be treated any certain way by the Republican senators in there and that they could actually not be responsible for having to feel or engage, or give her respect. And I think that’s a bunch of bullshit and that it backfired for them. I think they looked like a bunch of unsympathetic, uncaring white men. As a survivor, it literally is all of our worst nightmares come true. This is exactly the reason why we don’t come forward, or why we don’t report. This is exactly why. Because of the scrutiny. Because a man’s word will always mean more than our word. And it’s disgusting.
But I do want to leave this in a hopeful way. We’re really close to the midterms. Every woman who is feeling like I’m feeling right now, which is a certain amount of absolute rage, needs to be a part of this process. Everyone needs to go volunteer for a candidate that they believe in, that is going to protect the rights of women and that is going to fight for women. That’s the only way that we’re really going to change things. I always felt like we were going to take back the House, but now I feel like we’re going to take back the Senate. And I think once those things happen, I will lobby as hard as I possibly can to get the Democrats in the House to put forward the policy for impeaching Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.
Have you had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Ford?
I have not. But I had a wonderful moment yesterday with one of her friends who came over to me and said, “She wanted to say hi to you, she’s just overwhelmed. But she really appreciates you being here.” I am hoping to speak with her in the future and I’ve extended all of my contact information to her through her attorney.