Today at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined us to discuss her Hulu documentary series, Hillary, alongside director and executive producer Nanette Burstein. “Nothing was off-limits,” Clinton told us, saying what started as a campaign documentary turned into something very different once they began interviewing. And that since she wasn’t running for office or in office, she just went for it.
“I think for me, the reason why I wanted to expand this and tell her life story is that I felt it was so remarkably emblematic of our history over the last four years, particularly when it comes to women’s rights and the way that she has been a tip of the spear in various ways, and how it overlaps with these various historical moments,” Burstein said. “I also thought it was important to explain partisan politics. I mean, once Secretary Clinton entered the national stage, I think you really see how it has gone from that administration to today; it’s just become more extreme. And more than anything, I wanted people to understand that this is a historical figure. [….] Filmmaking is about understanding these personal stories, [and] you realize how misguided we can be in the way that we understand history and media. And so that is the beauty of documentary filmmaking, is that you get to know the personal […] what I hope people will come away with that was certainly the intention. And hopefully that is the result for the audience.”
Discussions turned, of course, to the current election cycle. In the documentary, there’s a quote from Clinton in the first episode (from 2016) about how the optimism of 2008 has been replaced by anger and vitriol in a way that we don’t yet understand. And perhaps we still don’t. As she told us, “by the time this runs, it’ll be right in the thick of what’s called Super Tuesday […] so maybe by that time, the field will have clarified and we’ll have a better idea who likely to end up with enough delegates to be the nominee. I think the most important message is we are—that’s the side that I’m on; I think I am on the side of an inclusive, generous, open-hearted country that faces up to the future and tries to bring people together to make difficult choices, of which we have many facing us—and then we’re in a real struggle with a form of politics that is incredibly negative, exclusive, mean-spirited. And it’s going to be up to every voter, not only people who vote in democratic primaries, to recognize that, you know, this is no ordinary time. This is an election that will have such profound impact.”
She added, “so take your vote seriously. For the Democratic voters, try to vote for the person you think is most likely to win, because at the end of the day, that is what will matter—and not just the popular vote. […] Because Lord knows what will happen if we don’t retire the current incumbent and his henchmen, as Nancy Pelosi described.”
When asked what we, as individuals, can do to enact change, Secretary Clinton gave three points. The first was to vote (“There is no substitute for voting”). The second was, “we’ve got to somehow understand that you can’t make good decisions in a democracy. And if we can’t even agree on basic facts, if we can’t have some understanding of what the evidence is on which we base our decision making, and even though the media has a great role in transporting us and challenging us and taking us out of our everyday reality, there does need to be a kind of basic reality that people can tune into and feel they can rely on.” She put the onus on the media to lead that charge, because “there’s a lot of good work has been done about how authoritarians rise up, and you remember, historically, most authoritarians were elected to start with. […] “A guy wins … mostly, usually, always a guy … And then he takes over and then he starts manipulating the press, and then he starts manipulating what reality is. And then he starts, you know, undermining the rule of law. And so pretty soon, people don’t know what to believe they retreat into their private spaces, because there’s no common reality anymore.” Another part of that spoke to her third point, which was:
”We’ve got to figure out how to have a more constructive relationship with social media, and it won’t surprise you to hear me say that I am worried. Because everything I’ve just said about what can happen in the political realm is amplified, exacerbated in the realm of social media. And I hope that voters, citizens, activists, everybody who knows you have a stake—which is everybody—in the kind of future we should build together, does speak out, does use whatever platform you have to say, wait a minute; you can you can disagree with the facts. But there are facts. You know, you can choose not to vaccinate your children. But there are facts. You can choose not to believe in climate change. But there are facts. Somehow we’ve got to shoulder that responsibility, not only, you know, as a political leadership level, but literally as a citizen, activist-concerned human being level.”
The documentary was edited from a 35 hours of conversation, much of which will cover the various perceptions of Clinton over the years. She told us that perhaps she could have done more to change that in ways she presented herself, but doesn’t really have any ideas of what might have been done differently that would have mattered. As Burstein noted, “I think what this film, you have the opportunity to go through history, and what you actually come to realize is in politics, being on the national stage, you have to be careful about what you say.” That you can say something forthright and honest, but then that’s taken out of context. “Which is like 20 million times worse today. And you realize, you have to be careful; but then that has a backlash to it, too. So it’s a lose-lose situation.”
There are a lot of off-the-cuff moments in the documentary, which Clinton said she wasn’t expecting necessarily to be included. But as Burstein pointed out, it also shows how genuine Clinton’s interactions are both when she’s in conversation with Burstein and in these more candid moments. Whether or not this documentary will end up changing anyone’s ingrained perception of Clinton, though, remains to be seen.
Hillary premieres Friday, March 6th on Hulu.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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