Where can you see Hillary Clinton going to clown school in Paris while wearing, yes, a clown nose?
The answer is Gutsy, the new docuseries from the former U.S. Secretary of State and her daughter, Chelsea, which debuts on Apple TV+ on September 9.
“[There are] things I did on this show that I not only hadn’t done before, but never thought I would do,” Hillary Clinton tells me, “and the clown nose ranks right up there.”
The show, which is based on the Clintons’ New York Times bestseller The Book of Gutsy Women, follows the mother and daughter as they interview noteworthy activists, entertainers, and community leaders whose work has been just as transformative for them as it’s been impactful for others. Each episode’s interviews coalesce around themes such as justice, motherhood, and combating hate.
For Chelsea Clinton, part of the reason for adapting the book into a show was to push back against the people who’ve criticized their scope of storytelling and suggested they include stories of men as well.
“I was like, that’s history,” she says. “If that’s still the mentality, we need to do whatever we can with our platforms to continue to highlight, share, tell, amplify stories of women and girls that we find inspiring, we find gutsy, and that we want people to know.”
The Clintons’ decision to use their platform to elevate these women comes at a fortuitous time. A study published earlier this year upended the misconception that overall, women are more risk-averse than men in the workplace. The truth is, men and women are on par for their willingness to take the initial risk. It’s just that women tend to suffer negative consequences for doing so, making them less likely to take that same risk in the future. The study runs parallel to other research highlighting how ambitious or assertive women tend to meet similar friction.
Of course, there’s no shortage of women using that friction as fuel to push far past barriers.
Part of the Clintons’ amplification of these issues and these women stems from their choosing to cohost the series as opposed to hiring someone else. An effective touch to Gutsy is the fact that Hillary and Chelsea conduct their interviews while partaking in activities of the guests’ choosing. That meant exposing themselves in ways that the public has never seen before. Thus, the clown school.
“Getting outside my own comfort zone made it possible for me to really connect with these other women,” Hillary Clinton says.
That includes women who were former white supremacists, one of whom was actually an organizer of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of protester Heather Heyer.
“And so I’m sitting there thinking, My husband’s Jewish. I have three half-Jewish children,” Chelsea Clinton says. “A few years ago, you were quite comfortable with rhetoric that my children shouldn’t exist.”
But they chose to feature the women for the work they’re doing now to deprogram other white supremacists—and because they’ve been making the effort to hold themselves accountable for perpetuating baseless, and sometimes fatal, rhetoric.
“I do think it is important [to listen] when people are saying, ‘I did do terrible things. I was wrong. I want to prevent other terrible things from happening,’ and to help support their effort to be part of the solution to stand up to hate—but it wasn’t comfortable,” Chelsea Clinton says.
“It runs absolutely counter to the so-called cancel culture,” Hillary Clinton adds. “Like, ‘You made a mistake. You did something I vehemently disagree with. I’m never talking to somebody like you.’ As opposed to, ‘I want to try to see if I can understand this.'”
“While holding you accountable,” Chelsea Clinton adds.
The conversations that the Clintons hope Gutsy will spark are at the root of their production company, HiddenLight, which they launched in 2020 along with producer Sam Branson.
HiddenLight’s upcoming slate includes In Her Hands, a Netflix documentary detailing the story of Zarifa Ghafari, one Afghanistan’s few female mayors and the youngest to hold the position at age 26; and In the Shadow of Beirut, a documentary that will offer viewers a glimpse at modern-day Lebanon as seen through the experiences of four families.
The Clintons join the ranks of other high-profile politicians forming production companies, including Barack and Michelle Obama (Higher Ground) and former Secretary of State John Kerry (Fingerprint Content).
“We got into government in part to solve problems, to open more doors, to create a different political culture,” Hillary Clinton says. “And in doing so, I think we learned the importance of storytelling and inspiring people to think beyond their own circumstances.”
It’s worth noting that Clinton is cautiously optimistic. She saw firsthand during her 2016 presidential run how social media can not only rapidly distribute disinformation but also how algorithms have been designed to reinforce negative or extreme content.
“I don’t pretend that we’re going to be able to switch that off, but there’s got to be a way on the other side to create these moments of honest conversation,” she says. “Not that people agree. Because at the end of the day, you’re certainly privileged not to, but that we will have talked and listened to each other.”