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'Hillary' Documentary Sets Clinton's Career And Marriage Against Culture War Backdrop

Filmmaker Nanette Burstein and Hillary Clinton pose at the <em>Hillary</em> premiere during the 70th Berlinale International Film Festival on Feb. 24, 2020 in Berlin.
Isa Foltin
Filmmaker Nanette Burstein and Hillary Clinton pose at the Hillary premiere during the 70th Berlinale International Film Festival on Feb. 24, 2020 in Berlin.

In Hillary, a new four-part documentary on Hulu, director Nanette Burstein overlays the story of Hillary Clinton's career and marriage over the story of feminism and the culture wars of the 1990s and 2000s.

It's a dynamic that comes down to "Be Our Champion, Go Away," as one episode is titled.

Hillary reveals behind-the-scenes footage from Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign against Donald Trump. And it takes a probing look at her life, both public and private, before the campaign to help reveal how the sexual scandals that plagued her husband's political career ultimately affected her own.

Among the episodes the film explores is the night in October 2016 when then-candidate Donald Trump brought some of Bill Clinton's accusers to sit in the audience during the second presidential debate — a move the Clinton campaign called a "stunt."

In an interview with NPR on Tuesday, Clinton said it was all part of a political strategy by an opponent who was trying to "turn the tables" away from his own brewing sex scandal. But she rejects the idea that her husband's history limited her ability to take on Trump on the issue of sexual misconduct.

"What happened in my husband's presidency is obviously part of history. He was held accountable, he expressed his regrets and what I saw happening with Trump is the inability of people to figure out how to hold him accountable for anything," she said.

Clinton and Burstein spoke to NPR on Super Tuesday. The former presidential nominee said she is not planning to endorse any candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary race. Hear that conversation here.

Interview Highlights

On how Hillary Clinton's life reflects the arc of the modern women's movement

Burstein: Secretary Clinton grew up at a time when she was part of the second wave of feminism. She grew up during the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement. There's almost a Zelig-like anthem to her life and the various places that even in early life she was encountering and being involved in.

On how the documentary shows Clinton change

Clinton: I think I certainly became more wary. I felt like I was on a tightrope, no margins whatsoever. I watched other people run for office — men, let's be honest. When you're the only woman, or the first woman, or one of very few women, there isn't that template.

On whether Clinton still feels, as she says in the documentary, that she may be a better public servant than candidate

Clinton: I know I was a good public servant. I hope that I've made it a little bit easier for more women to enter the public sphere and I think for viewers who watch the documentary on Hulu starting on Friday night, I hope that maybe there are some lessons in that for them, too.

Burstein: In the documentary, [Clinton 2016 campaign strategist] Robby Mook ... makes this point of saying now with social media what drives voters is clear, quick, clean ideas: Free education for all, universal health care. I know that Secretary Clinton shared with me that she has what she referred to as the "responsibility gene" where she doesn't want to just promise things, she likes to break down and explain all the different funding streams and how you would actually accomplish it. And it's not what the public always wants to take the time to listen to.

Justine Kenin and Courtney Dorning produced and edited this story for broadcast. Heidi Glenn adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
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