Since she stepped into the public eye in the late 1970s, Hillary Clinton has been an incredibly divisive figure. Director Nanette Burstein goes in-depth on Clinton’s life and career in Hillary, Hulu’s new four-part docuseries. While the series is nearly impossible to watch without applying your own views, its ultimate value comes from a universal message about being a woman in politics and a woman in America.
The series consists of four one hour-long episodes that apply the Greta Gerwig Little Women technique of jumping back and forth in time. From childhood friends to campaign staff to Bill Clinton to Hillary herself, the interviews are candid and allow for a fairly comprehensive look at the subject matter.
Applying Your Views
Enjoyment of this series definitely depends on how one personally feels about Hillary Clinton. Throughout the series, Clinton is honest and well-spoken but also loosens up in a way we don’t usually see. This mostly reads as sincere and humanizes someone who is often judged on a surface-level. Those who already have a bias against Clinton politically probably won’t find it as easy to warm up to her, which is unfortunate but realistic.
Burstein obviously has a bias towards her. Nearly everyone interviewed sings her praises and defends her against criticism. What is slightly problematic is the way the documentary makes Bernie Sanders out to be just as bad as Donald Trump. They act as though he was an obstacle who manipulated voters instead of a formidable candidate. Again, your personal views might be similar, but it is objectively upsetting to see a person who has marched with Martin Luther King Jr. compared to someone who lies about a global pandemic.
No documentary is objective and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it is truthful. Tough issues such as the controversial crime bill and the Lewinsky scandal are not brushed aside. Clinton owns up to many of her mistakes, but it is up to the viewer whether they find that sufficient. Burstein obviously does. Hillary Clinton is meant to be the hero of the story and the series succeeds in making that clear.
Inside the Campaign
Probably the most alluring aspect of Hillary is the plethora of never before seen campaign footage from 2016. It’s difficult for the average voter to understand what truly goes into a presidential campaign. Narrative films such as The Ides of March and plenty of documentaries have explored the subject, but no campaigns are alike. Especially 2016.
We get to see the entire evolution. From the optimism in her announcement to the unexpected traction Sanders received, to the bullying from Trump, all the way to her shocking loss. By showing the attitude of her team and Clinton herself (who never thought Trump would be easy to beat) it gives even more insight into her as a person. Raw footage of debate rehearsals and reactions to primary results make for an incredibly intimate look into what will surely become one of the most studied elections of all time.
The Universal Message
Truly the most important aspect of the series is the dissection of the way Clinton has been portrayed throughout her life and career. As the First Lady of Arkansas, she was pushed to change her look to appear more like First Ladies of the past. She became hated by stay at home moms after saying,“I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.” Once First Lady of the United States, she was criticized for accepting too much responsibility. In 2016, even supporters of Clinton’s told her she needed to smile more.
These criticisms are not saved only for Clinton, of course. What she has gone through and continues to go through represents what most women in politics and media have to go through. The question of “electability” and “likableness” always comes up more for women, as we’ve most recently seen over the last few months. No man has to think about the suits they wear, but as soon as Clinton wears purple rather than red, white, or blue, she isn’t considered patriotic enough. When her husband had an affair, people didn’t ask why he did it, but why she didn’t leave him for it. This criticism can take a toll. At a certain point, she felt that Bill lost re-election in Arkansas because of her free-spirited, career-driven image.
Burstein ends the documentary on a hopeful note, framing Clinton’s historic run as the jumping-off point for the Women’s March and the record number of women who ran for the 2020 Democratic nomination. She captures how the attitude of the nation towards women in power has changed, while still acknowledging that there is more to do.
Those who already dislike Hillary Clinton probably won’t change their minds after watching Hillary. But Burstein isn’t trying to change anyone’s minds. Through her creative direction, she is able to tell Clinton’s story, the story of an insane campaign, and the story of women in politics.
What did you think of Hillary? Let us know in the comments!
Hillary was released on Hulu on March 6, 2020.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.