Monica Lewinsky reveals 'narratives of secrecy' in new Clinton Affair doc
A new documentary exploring the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sex scandal is telling a story for the #MeToo era through interviews with a number of people close to it, including Lewinsky herself.
The Clinton Affair, a six-part series which begins airing Sunday on A&E, recounts the sexual relationship between the former U.S. president and White House intern as well as the emotional aftermath when that relationship became public in 1998.
Twenty years later, a once over-exposed Lewinsky said it was time to share her story in her own words — particularly because, she says, most versions of the story until now have been told by men.
"As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman," she wrote in a recent Vanity Fair article explaining why she participated.
Emotional highs and lows
In the doc, Lewinsky takes responsibility for the affair and also describes many low points, including contemplating suicide when she was being interviewed by FBI agents in a hotel room.
"There was a point for me somewhere in the first several hours where I would be hysterically crying and then I would just shut down," she said "And in the shutdown period, I remember looking out the window and thinking that the only way to fix this was to kill myself, was to jump out the window."
"There were always narratives of secrecy in this relationship," Lewinsky says in another episode.
Lewinsky, 45, says she spent a total of 20 hours being interviewed for the film.
"I may not like everything that has been put in the series or left out, but I like that the perspective is being shaped by women," she wrote in her op-ed, referring to the documentary's Emmy-winning director Blair Foster and the four female executive producers.
'There were two people involved in this'
Lewinsky, who describes in detail her relationship with the former president spanning several years, became the prime target of public scrutiny and disdain after their affair came to light through an investigation. Clinton went through impeachment proceedings following charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for initially lying about the affair, but was acquitted and allowed to carry out the remainder of his second term in office.
Foster says Lewinsky suffered unfairly for years, with little blame placed on Clinton.
"There were two people involved in this, and I think it's about time to shift the focus and re-balance that," she told MSNBC's Morning Joe in an interview Friday.
It's also why she says she deliberately chose a title that focuses on the former president rather than Lewinsky, who was 22 at the time. While Lewinsky says the relationship was consensual, she has characterized the dynamic as "a gross abuse of power."
"Bye-bye, Lewinsky scandal," Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair. "I think 20 years is enough time to carry that mantle."
Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and Paula Jones, who sued Clinton for sexual harassment in 1994, are among the dozens of people interviewed. Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton were interviewed, however, and have not commented publicly about the documentary.
The political power couple is embarking on a joint North American tour beginning later this year to share anecdotes about their life in public service.
The Clinton Affair joins a list of films released recently examining major events in the 1990s through a modern lens. The Emmy award-winning People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and I, Tonya, about former figure skater Tonya Harding and the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, are among them.