"I think to be able to see her in this fly on the wall, unvarnished way shows a new perspective on who she is," director Nanette Burstein tells PEOPLE

By Sean Neumann
March 09, 2020 03:34 PM
Advertisement

A new four-part documentary about former 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton debuted on Hulu on Friday, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the politician’s historic presidential campaign and the moments that shaped the life of one of the most admired and divisive women in American history.

The succinctly titled Hillary takes viewers through Clinton’s life growing up in a predominantly Republican northwest suburb of Chicago to her formative years as a social activist in high school and college and then onto her years as a lawyer and a politician’s wife and then as a politician herself.

The documentary, directed by Nanette Burstein, includes both rare campaign footage and candid new interviews.

Here are some of the highlights from Hillary‘s four episodes.

How Hillary Clinton Came to Be

The first of the documentary’s episodes spends a big chunk of time diving into how Clinton’s political and social views formed throughout her childhood and during her time in college.

Burstein tells PEOPLE she wanted to use the first part of the documentary to tell Clinton’s origin story.

“I thought it was important to show that even though she grew up in this very white, Republican, sort of Leave It to Beaver setting, she had this very unusual pastor who was a young person of his time — almost a kind of hippie pastor, in a way — who decided, ‘Okay, I’m going to take these kids who are in a very isolated world and I’m going to show them what’s going on,’ ” Burstein explains.

The doc incorporates old photographs and footage from throughout Clinton’s childhood and teenage years, showing how the future presidential nominee saw civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Chicago and highlighting her first brush with public notoriety at her graduation speech at Wellesley College, where she delivered a scathing response to Sen. Edward Brooke’s disregarding comments about the impact of political activism.

“For too long, our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible,” Clinton, then 21 years old, said in her 1969 graduation speech.

Hillary Clinton in February 2016
| Credit: LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 19: Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on during a "Get Out The Caucus" at the Clark County Government Center on February 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. With one day to go before the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Las Vegas. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rare Campaign Footage of the 2016 Election

One of the most revealing aspects of Hillary is the documentary’s look into the 2016 Clinton campaign, which is built on hours of never-before-seen footage that was shot throughout the former senator’s bid for the presidency — all the way up until the night of the election and her surprising loss to President Donald Trump.

The footage includes colloquial interactions with campaign staff, the emotional moments she and her aides felt the campaign slipping away and telling pre-debate conversations with staffers about her outfits.

In one scene, Clinton gets advice from longtime aide Huma Abedin about what shoes she should wear before a debate with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, to which Clinton aptly responds that a man running for office wouldn’t have someone telling him what shoes to wear.

“Practically every day started with me doing hair and makeup,” Clinton explains in the documentary. “There were 600 days, give or take, on the campaign and it was an hour to an hour and a half — so being really conservative, an hour doing hair and makeup. I calculated it, and I spent 25 days doing hair and makeup. I knew that the man I was running against didn’t have to do any of that.”

Burstein tells PEOPLE the campaign footage helps give an “unvarnished” view of Clinton.

“One of the beliefs and criticisms of Secretary Clinton is that she is not only very guarded publicly, but she’s inaccessible and she doesn’t feel human and that she feels cold and calculating,” Burstein says. “So, I think to be able to see her in this fly on the wall, unvarnished way shows a new perspective on who she is.”

The Tell-All About Bill Clinton’s White House Affair

In one of the more emotional parts of Hillary, the former first lady and her White House staff open up about the pain they fought through in the aftermath of President Bill Clinton‘s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment.

President Clinton is interviewed for Hillary, addressing his relationship with Lewinsky with unusual candor. He says he feels “terrible” about his past actions, as Hillary gives an inside look at how the former first lady responded privately even as she stood by her husband publicly.

“I was just devastated,” Mrs. Clinton says. “I just could not believe it. I was just so personally hurt.”

One member of the president’s senior staff, Paul Begala, tells Burstein that he decided to quit after learning the president had lied directly to his face and to the country for months. But Mrs. Clinton immediately called him, he says, and she said, “If I’m not quitting, you’re not quitting.”

The last half of the series’ third episode is entirely dedicated to how Mrs. Clinton and White House staff dealt with the president’s scandal, which resulted in the Clintons not speaking privately for some time and eventually going to marriage counseling together.

“I defended and stood by him because I thought the impeachment process was wrong, but that wasn’t the necessary answer to what I would do with my marriage,” Mrs. Clinton remembers. “It was not, to me, the same. I still had to decide whether I wanted to stay in the marriage, whether I thought it was worth saving. We saw a counselor and had painful, painful discussions.”

Hillary Clinton in August 2015
| Credit: Isaac Brekken/Getty

The Clinton’s Marriage: Through the Years

Although the documentary spends half an episode focused on the president and Lewinsky and the pain it caused the Clintons’ family and friends, the four-part Hulu doc more broadly encompass the bond between them beyond their ups-and-downs.

In simultaneous interviews spliced with archival photographs, the Clintons explain how they first met at Yale Law School and how their relationship continued to develop as they both grew their careers — at times together, and at other times thousands of miles away from one another while she worked in Washington, D.C., and he lived in Arkansas.

“There was something special about her,” President Clinton remembers about the first time he saw Hillary Rodham sitting behind her in a class and eventually talking to her in the school’s library.

The documentary tells the story of their long-developing relationship, which featured two proposals — the first lacking a definite response from her after he proposed but told her she’d be wise not to accept because he planned to live out his life in Arkansas.

Eventually, the future president bought a home for them on a whim and asked her to marry him again.

Burstein’s documentary also traces Mrs. Clinton’s transformation into the first lady of Arkansas, as an unconventional outsider from Chicago, and then eventually to the first lady of the United States while her marriage was under scrutiny that has never really abated.

“I can tell you this,” says Nancy Bekavac, a friend of the Clintons’ from Yale. “Insofar as I’ve ever known anyone well, those two people love each other. If they didn’t, it would be so much easier.”

From left: Hillary and Bill Clinton together at the Grand Canyon in the ’90s
| Credit: Doug Mills/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Hillary Clinton Explains Why She’ll Be ‘Forever Be Grateful’ to George W. Bush

Mrs. Clinton and President George W. Bush didn’t always see eye-to-eye while she was a New York senator, but 9/11 “changed everything,” she says in Hillary.

After each of them individually visited Ground Zero in New York City in the days after the attack, Congress sent a request for $20 billion for disaster relief following the terrorist attacks.

“But not a penny for New York,” Mrs. Clinton remembers in Hillary. “I mean, we thought there was something wrong. It couldn’t be true.”

So then-Sen. Clinton and her fellow New York Sen. Chuck Schumer went to meet with President Bush and asked him for $20 billion to be given directly to N.Y.C. in order to begin to rebuild after the attacks.

“And he said, ‘You got it,’ ” Clinton says. “And for all of my disagreements with President Bush, I will forever be grateful to him for guaranteeing we got the money we needed to rebuild New York.”

Hillary Clinton visiting Ground Zero days after the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001
| Credit: Darren McCollester/Getty

Emails, Emails, Emails

It wouldn’t be a Hillary Clinton documentary if it didn’t dive further into her emails — a scandal that was heavily, even obsessively, covered by the political media which she admits she underestimated when news first broke in late 2015 about her using a private email to conduct government business.

“I thought it would be a two-day story,” she says in Hillary‘s opening episode, which dives headfirst into one of the defining criticisms of her career.

“I know there were times it got her down,” one close friend explains in Hillary.

The documentary examines how she mistakenly put little weight behind the issue at first and didn’t think it was as serious as it would later become, with her and other campaign staffers citing other past politicians like Colin Powell, the secretary of state under Bush, who also used private email servers for government-related communications.

Eventually, she apologized publicly in an effort to begin to move on. But, she says, apologizing “didn’t end it” and, she acknowledges, she “never successfully did” handle the controversy.

From left to right: Jay-Z and Beyonce laugh with then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton days before the 2016 election.
| Credit: Courtesy #STILLWITHHER by Barbara Kinney

Hillary Clinton’s Feelings on Bernie Sanders

Clinton doesn’t mince words on her former 2016 opponent for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Honestly, Bernie just drove me crazy,” she says in the doc. “Nobody likes him. Nobody wants to work with him. He got nothing done.”

The two candidates had a contentious primary race, which Clinton won on her way to facing Trump in the general election. But Sanders’ surprisingly strong challenge, despite Clinton’s convincing victory, was the first speed bump in what would become a turbulent 2016 election.

One Clinton campaign staffer says in the documentary that Sanders became “increasingly negative” toward Clinton as the race went on, while others on her team warned her from the start: “Do not underestimate [him].”

“He was a career politician,” Clinton argues in Hillary. “It was all just bologna, and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”

Four years later and Sanders is in another tight race for the Democratic nomination facing another well-known Democrat, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Clinton, on the other hand, took a likely permanent step back from politics after losing the 2016 election.

“I don’t think she has any plans to run for public office again,” Burstein tells PEOPLE. “I’m not the authority to adhere to in anyway, but I think she very much wants to continue to work behind the scenes, fundraising and working on social justice — but not being a candidate.”

Former First Ladies Michelle Obama (left) and Hillary Clinton
| Credit: Barbara Kinney

The Moment Hillary Clinton Became the First Woman to Win a Presidential Nomination

Clinton made history by winning the Democratic Party’s primary in June 2016, becoming the first woman in America to be a major political party’s presidential nominee.

“I was just on the brink of tears,” she remembers before giving her acceptance speech. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is more than I could have ever imagined.’ ”

Clinton remembers that “right as I was ready to go off, I remember Huma [Abedin] grabbing me and saying: ‘Take it all in, just take it all in.’ “

The emotional moment is captured near the beginning of Hillary‘s third episode, as Burstein blends together footage of the joyous and tearful crowd of Clinton supporters alongside clips of the nominee’s speech.

“She had to pave the way so that other women could go forward,” Burstein tells PEOPLE. “Because when you are the pioneer, it may not work out perfectly for you, but you’ve normalized it so that the next wave of women that come forward can do it with more ease. So, for example, she was the only woman who ran for president in two elections — at least as a major candidate — and then in 2020 we had six women that were running. We had all these women that ran for Congress in 2018. I think that’s just being the woman who was constantly being the first in so many situations, being a new kind of first lady, and trying to change our perceptions.”

Hillary is streaming now on Hulu.