In promoting Hulu documentary, Hillary Clinton says she ‘should have done more’ to repair her public image

January 17, 2020, 6:47 PM UTC
Hillary Hulu Panel
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 17: Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks onstage during the Hulu Panel at Winter TCA 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 17, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu)
Erik Voake—Getty Images for Hulu

Journalists who’ve been parked inside the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. during the TCA Winter Press Tour for nearly two weeks were treated, temporarily, to a different brand of TV talent Friday morning when former secretary of state Hillary Clinton took the stage to promote her documentary Hillary, streaming on Hulu March 5.

Joined by filmmaker Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture), whose film chronicles the former first lady’s personal and professional history, Clinton fielded a slew of timely questions, starting with her thoughts on why female politicians so often must battle the notion of “likability.”

“There is an unfair double-standard and disadvantage to how women are interpreted [in the media],” said Clinton. “I’m in the camp that: The more women who are out there, the more we will realize that women have same rights to have a full range of emotions.”

Clinton explained that Hillary initially began as a way to chronicle her run for president in 2016. When she lost to Donald Trump, the project led by Burstein—who by then had gathered 1,700 hours of footage— showed potential as a more wide-ranging look at her life and place in history.

“The reason I wanted to… tell her life story is that she’s emblematic of our history and women’s rights. She was the tip of the spear; she’s a historical figure,” said Burstein. “When you get to know her, the intimate moments of her life…you realize how misguided we can be. That’s the intention of the film.”

“Through our 35 hours of interviews it was clear to me, and Nanette picked up on it early on, was that I became a Rorschach test for women when I burst onto the public scene. And I’d lived 40 years before that!” laughed Clinton, adding: “It’s really hard watching yourself for four hours, but the reaction that some have expressed on the film is gratifying; people saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that.’”

During the Q&A, Fortune asked Clinton to reflect what aspects of making Hillary were most humbling for her.

“The most humbling moments were about recognizing that I have been often mischaracterized and I have to bear some responsibility for that. I didn’t do a good enough job to break through a lot of perceptions.”

What could she have done to change those perceptions?

“I don’t know,” Clinton said. “You have to be careful…you realize that if you say something honest, then that has a backlash. I was constantly surprised [during the election] that things I said were taken out of context, and that caused me to be even more cautious and guarded. ‘If I say anything, it will be misinterpreted.’ So that was really humbling. I also know now I was this lightening rod who people were quick to judge, and that it often had nothing to do with me.”

On the subject of women in politics being unfairly mischaracterized, Fortune asked Clinton to comment on whether she feels first lady Melania Trump herself has fallen victim to that trend.

“I have no brilliant insight… I can’t speak to that,” said Clinton.

Burstein and Clinton, who will premiere their documentary next week at the Sundance Film Festival, said they hope Hillary will serve as a reminder to viewers to engage in the forthcoming 2020 presidential election.

“Vote. Please vote,” said Clinton. “It wasn’t long ago that we had a president when we didn’t have to wake up and worry about what would happen that day. Right now, we can’t even agree on basic facts. There needs to be a base reality that people can tune into.”

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