Hulu’s ‘Hillary’ uses Clinton to expose sexist political terrain

“She’s one of the most admired and one of the most vilified women in America.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a polarizing figure. One could argue that between herself and the current occupier of the White House, Donald Trump, she was the more capable candidate to win the presidency in 2016.

Love her or hate her, Clinton’s weight as an iconic figure is undeniable. The new Hulu series Hillary attempts to dig deeper into Clinton’s place in the world of politics.

Viewers are given a glimpse of the woman and the politician. The documentary zeroes in on the history of women’s rights in the U.S., indirectly painting a picture of how sexism played a huge role in Clinton’s defeat by Trump. Some will agree with that message, while others will vehemently disagree. The documentary is just as polarizing as the woman it centers on–and it’s worth the watch.

Directed by film and television director Nanette Burstein (Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee) the docu-series is presented in four parts at one hour each, giving audiences a four-hour deep dive into Clinton’s past, present, and her place in the movement of women aiming to take center stage in world politics. Clinton herself, along with other notable political figures and journalists, weighs in on her life and some of the well-known controversies swirling around her.

For those curious to see a more candid and unfiltered side of Clinton, this series gives it in detail. If you ever wondered what she really thinks regarding certain controversies and personalities outside of polished 60 Minutes interviews, you will find it here. One would expect she’d talk about Trump but there are a number of hot topics brought up, and she does not hold her tongue.

A significant amount of time is given to the email scandal that hung like a dark cloud over her bid for the presidency. The saying of “but her emails,” has been widely spread since 2016 to go along with the notion that Clinton is a corrupt politician in the pocket of Wall Street. During her time as U.S. Secretary of State Clinton drew controversy by using a private email for official public communications rather than using an official State Department email account maintained on federal servers. Although it was seen as legal for her to do so, (and other government figures have done the same in the past, such as Colin Powell), it was a scandal that would not go away for Clinton.

We are shown how her campaign team dealt with the scandal and the way the media helped in shaping the narrative around it. Clinton would end up giving a televised interview in which she apologized, but in the docu-series Clinton maintains saying there was no reason for her to ask for forgiveness.

She talks about Bernie Sanders and the infamous battles of their campaigns for the Democratic Party nomination in 2016. There seems to be no love lost between the candidates as she declares in the series that she sees Sanders as a career politician who has big ideas but little know-how on how to implement them.

This, of course, will ruffle many feathers, as Sanders has become known as a major figure in the struggles for progress and change. Still, it is interesting to see the often composed former First Lady give a less diplomatic viewpoint now that she seemingly has no one’s vote to campaign for.

Clinton counters the sentiment that she is a corrupt politician by defending her right to do what many male politicians have done (using private emails, giving speeches to big banks, and the like) but how for some reason she has dealt with harsher criticism for it. The “some reason” greatly alluded to is sexism.

Sexism and the drive for the self-determination of women are major themes in the series.  Clinton’s path is shown to be intertwined with the women’s movement as both an influencer and the influenced. Hillary goes back and forth between the present and the past. We are shown Clinton’s beginnings growing up in a conservative Methodist family to her journey as a young woman lawyer in a male-dominated school, and to her time working with Marian Wright Edelman going undercover to investigate racial discrimination in education. Through this exploration of Clinton’s political timeline viewers are given different sides of her and the understanding that the personal has always been made political for Clinton whether she liked it or not.

A poignant moment in the series is when time is given to explore Clinton’s fight for universal healthcare when she was First Lady.

It is explained that many men had tried before her to push for reform against insurance companies and had failed. Clinton faced not only this uphill battle but the added aspect of being a woman in a male-dominated arena. The narrative that was pushed on her painted Clinton as a “ballbusting” shrew who walked all over her husband Bill. She was threatened with physical violence while her likeness was burned in effigy on lawns. She was made to represent all that a society embedded with male supremacy feared – a woman who dared to be in leadership and disrupt the status quo.

Of course, as one reads my review they may be shouting throughout that Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 election had more to do with her being a flawed candidate and not sexism – that she was a “hawk” and would have been just as bad as Trump. The thing is, in watching Hillary, it could be argued that Clinton had a similar uprise to many of her male colleagues, ones that went on to be presidents, yet she… didn’t. Many candidates before her had baggage and scandals.

Yet, it was Clinton that was often met with the sentiment of “I just don’t like her.” But why? It can’t just be policy. It can’t just be because she seems “cold.”  There have been male leaders and presidents before her who have been seen as cold and abrasive, right?

It’s not so much that I’m making a case that Clinton isn’t an establishment politician despite her more left-leaning history. It’s more so that Hillary shows us that Clinton is very much like many of the corporate establishment politicians who hold leadership, yet somehow she, and other women similar to her, seem to be the ones who get the most scrutiny for being so. One only has to look to the current Democratic primaries that have Joe Biden leading in states in a way that Clinton did not in 2016 against Bernie Sanders, although Biden’s politics are similar to Clinton’s. What is the difference here? Is Joe more “likable” for “some reason” to certain kinds (read: male) voters?

Without coming right out and saying it, Hillary explores this idea. Viewers are shown a woman who has clearly prepared above and beyond, maybe more so than presidents before her, but is rejected.

The docu-series shows you added obstacles she faces that her male counterparts do not on her journey to leadership. A strong case is made and supported, that sexism was the major detriment to Clinton’s bid for the highest state of office in the U.S.  In watching this documentary viewers may see a relevance to Elizabeth Warren’s recent run for Democratic nominee and the similar obstacles and rhetoric she faced.

What this documentary is not is a dissection of all of Clinton’s politics. If you’re looking for something that will paint her as a war hawk or even push a little harder on some of her more questionable political decisions throughout the years, you won’t find that here. This documentary is with her (see what I did there?) although it doesn’t present her decisions as all sunshine and rainbows or her as a perpetual victim of misogyny.

Hillary is a documentary that should not only be viewed as an exploration of a history-making woman but for what she represents. The series uses Clinton as perhaps the most telling example of just how sexist the political terrain is – how male politicians are given more space to be flawed than women, and how the media can help in creating a narrative that is often detrimental for women in the public eye, especially when those women aim for power. It is a series relevant to the here and now and is sure to spark a much-needed discussion around the role of women in national politics.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.