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A Feminist Analysis of Rodham – the Feature Film About Young Hillary Clinton

A Feminist Analysis of Rodham - the Feature Film About Young Hillary Clinton

The script Rodham by Young Il Kim has been one of the scripts on the recent Blacklist — it came in 4th — that has made significant buzz before it even starts production.  While we hoped when the buzz began that there would be some women on the team, we were none too pleased to read that James Ponsoldt director of Smashed and the upcoming Spectacular Now got the gig.

The script is making its way around town and we got our hands on it this weekend.

First, it was a good read.  It’s about a woman, who is a lawyer, who is involved in an important piece of American history (the impeachment of Richard Nixon), who is competent, who is challenged and who very interesting and full of contradictions.

Now I know this is a work of fiction and we have seen the Clinton’s fictionalized before namely in Primary Colors, but in that movie, while we knew it was the Clintons, their names were different.  Here they are Bill and Hillary Clinton, she in DC, he in Arkansas starting their lives as young professionals.  

I’m not sure we have ever seen a movie like this before.  A still living viable Presidential candidate, former Secretary of State, former Senator and First Lady.  We recently had The Iron Lady about Margaret Thatcher, but that film was released after she has retired and was already ill.  I guess we could use The Queen as some comparison but that’s as close as we can get.

I wish I could say that I loved it from top to bottom.  I didn’t.  There were things that made me cringe especially how the script handles feminism.  I know this is fiction but some of the moments seem a bit too far fetched and I hope they reign in some of the language.  Here are some examples:

When we meet Hillary at Yale she is described as a “hippie girl.”  Bill Clinton is described as a “Viking.”

Here’s her full description:

“A blonde girl whose face is hidden behind an awful haircut and a hideous pair of Coke-Bottle glasses.  Her tie-dyed t-shirt has a faded “AuH20” on it.  She’s the valedictorian of the “look-like-shit school of feminism.”

So that’s the first description of feminism in a movie about a feminist.

Then she goes on to diss the word ms saying that “it hurts her lips saying it”, and incredibly in the same exchange where she disses the word ms she goes on to dream about becoming President of the US.

One of the big moments in the script is that Bill Clinton gets a phone call at Hillary’s apartment (she was his weekend contact) asking him to be on the House Judiciary Committee looking at the impeachment of Richard Nixon.  He turns it down saying that he will be running for Congress from Arkansas (a surprise to her) and then she gets a same call to be a part of the committee and realizes that she came in second to her boyfriend and that just kills her.  It is a clear moment where she and the audience realize how sexist the world is.

There is also a laughable exchange between Hillary and her friends Betsey Wright and Sara Erman about a bra and how the wires dug into her (is that really needed?  does that humanize her?)

Betsey Wright becomes the villain of the piece trying to keep Hillary in DC and in politics while Bill Clinton is trying to get her to marry him and move to Arkansas.  She is conflicted to say the least.  Betsey Wright tries to tempt her and takes her into a meeting with all the top feminists at the National Women’s Political Caucus office in DC which the film says doubles as the Ms. Magazine office.  

The scene is a feminist’s wet dream.  Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Myrlie Evers and Gloria Steinem in a single room working on getting more women elected to office.  Betsey Wright is selling Hillary and trying to convince her of her future.  She says:

“Hillary Rodham will be a US Senator someday.  And our first female President.”

But Bill Clinton is pissed that she took the job and says:

“You’re going to listen to Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan over me?  They’re using you for their feminist agenda, nothing more.”

That old feminist agenda.   Destroyer of nations.

The film also creates a narrative that Hillary chose between rich William Weld and poor Bill Clinton, that she wrote Bill Clinton’s campaign speeches while she was working 12 hours a day on the house judiciary committee, that when she first went to Arkansas Bill Clinton’s mother Virginia put her in a prom like dress because she didn’t like how she looked, that his brother Roger made awful comments about her sexuality and a potential relationship with her friend Betsey Wright (while he was doing bong hits), and most important that he gave her one of the most vital pieces to effectively subpoena additional tapes from Nixon which almost got her fired.

All in all it is a story about an ambitious woman who makes the decision that is right for her.  It’s none of our business to judge anyone’s decisions.  I think they really need to clean up some of the anti-feminist rhetoric in the screenplay.  I also think that they have should operate at a higher level of scrutiny since most of the people in the script are still working and still in politics.  It’s one thing to make up stuff about someone who is retired or dead, but it’s another thing to make up shit about someone who is still a viable political candidate.  

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