The day the Hillary docuseries appeared on Hulu - Friday, March 6 - was the day it fell in my “Recommended” list. Is anyone surprised?
I had been planning to find something to use as background noise while I completed my homework and articles, but I figured, “Hey, why not watch just one episode?”
Well, I finished the series in a single night and figured I’d turn my bingeing into something productive.
I didn’t know what to expect from the series; like many others, Hillary Clinton has a tendency to give me mixed feelings. Does she stand for most of what I stand for? Yes. Has she often unfairly been the target of smear campaigns for things largely out of her control? Yes. Is her stoic and closed-off demeanor sometimes off-putting? Absolutely. The docuseries, however, places all of these in a different light and veers back and forth, making the former First Lady both a victim and a champion.
The docuseries covers Hillary’s upbringing, entry into politics, and time as First Lady of Arkansas and, later, the United States, while also paying due diligence to her time in the Senate and State Department and her two unsuccessful runs for President.
When put in context, there are many things about the docuseries which make you think deeply about the complicated relationship between Hillary and the public. It focuses on the central narrative that she spent years in law school learning that a woman needs to suppress her emotions to be taken seriously while later facing public backlash for her cold demeanor.
She attempts in the interviews to combat the notion that she doesn’t have feelings, that she’s dishonest, etc., sometimes digging her further into a hole. That can definitely be said about her opinions toward primary challenger Bernie Sanders, which came across to the public as deflecting blame for her loss in 2016.
I think the most sobering segment in the docuseries was the one which revolved around Bill’s extramarital affairs and the criticism Hillary received for sticking by a cheating husband - because, you know, it’s not Bill’s fault or anything. Both Clintons got very self aware and honest in their interviews, which was refreshing, but I don’t think Bill Clinton has faced the same scrutiny as his wife for his own actions.
Hillary Clinton came into 2016 riding the notion that she was the most popular woman in politics; she held that title for 17 years until beaten out by Michelle Obama, after all. A primary challenge from the left and the GOP opposition machine casting doubt over her character, her competence, her health, etc. (which her progressive challenger also bent into) contributed to soiling her chances of becoming the first woman president.
(It is worth noting, however, the methodology for deciding who was “most admired” - it was collected by allowing people to simply mention the name of the figure they most admired, and 15% was the highest percentage - toward Michelle Obama. Clinton was 4%, as was Melania Trump.)
All identity politics aside, however, she did have a clear history pushing for change as an advocate and public servant (two very different roles in creating said change.) If not a more fair picture of Hillary’s role in the government and public psyche, it at least gave a more nuanced one. While the documentary could have used more perspectives by her opponents, it gave quite a bit of lip service to her own self-reflection and harsh judgment of her own record.
Hillary also had her own shortcomings and was not simply victim to things out of her control, although much of the opposition was carefully framed and ignored integral facts. The docuseries covered a lot of the unknowns and uncontrollables, while it could have also painted a picture of her own self-inflicted shortcomings.
Still, anyone frustrated by gender biases in politics or anyone facing sexism in politics themselves can probably relate on some level to the double standards portrayed in Clinton’s career. Those disappointed by Warren dropping out of the 2020 race probably have a bit of that ill will, as they are now forced to choose between two white septuagenarians in what once was the most diverse - across gender and race - primary field in American history. These two white men have, admittedly, probably not faced the same kind of scrutiny a woman in politics receives and while not ignoring some of Warren’s own shortcomings, some of her criticism did seem to have a gendered angle.
At its core, the docuseries showed the complicated and controversial human that is Hillary Clinton. I predict that Hillary Clinton will remain a polarizing figure for years to come, while some see her as “what could have been” and others see her as “what never should have been.” While the docuseries probably won’t change these perceptions, it met expectations for a careful overview of Hillary’s career.
I give the “Hillary” docuseries 4 out of 5 Swoops.