It’s less an inspirational story than a cautionary tale. Because surely Nanette Burstein’s four-part Hulu docuseries “Hillary” – about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – ends up reminding viewers how little has changed for women who have an eye toward the White House.
The series itself ultimately broadcasts a triumphal narrative – that gender doesn’t work against all Clinton’s political descendants as it long has against her. But it was hard to see Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the last woman presenting a serious 2020 presidential bid, end her campaign on Thursday and not detect echoes of the past.
In structure, “Hillary” is a fairly straightforward biopic, beginning with Clinton’s suburban Illinois adolescence and her years as a mark-making student at Yale Law School (fittingly, the title of the first episode is “The Golden Girl”). Throughout, the series is embroidered with a variety of scenes from Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
From early on in her life, Clinton was aware – made aware – of the particular disdain reserved for ambitious women. She recalls the braying of her male counterparts when she sat for the Law School Admission Test in the late 1960s: “What are you doing here?” “You don’t belong here.” “You can’t go to law school.” “If you get into law school and take my place and I get sent to Vietnam and die, it’s your fault!” (Clinton says, archly, that this last remark was her favorite.)
Outrageous sentiments, of course. But they were of a piece with the prevailing socio-political mores of a period that was both on the brink of radical change – the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the gay rights movement, the women’s liberation movement – and resistant to it.
“In those days, you got no points for being emotional. You’d get no points for trying to fight back or defend. You’d just put your head down. You worked hard. You got to where you were going despite whatever obstacles were put up,” Clinton says of the era that made her.
The series revisits how, in key ways, Clinton’s political life, which has often crisscrossed her personal life, has been defined by this gendered point system.