May 31, 2019

Old politicians flock to new film media

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Politicians are racing to produce films as an outlet to extend their influence after their Washington careers expire.

Why it matters: It used to be that high-powered politicos would look to establish themselves on cable TV or in the nonprofit world after leaving office. But as young consumers spend more time watching video online via apps like Netflix, politicians are seizing on the power of streaming video to influence the next generation.

Driving the news: Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton are reportedly in talks to create a production company, Bloomberg reports.

  • "The two have spoken to studios about financing a pipeline of programs," people familiar with the matter tell Bloomberg.
  • "The family hopes to use film and television to influence culture and society now that Hillary Clinton is out of politics. They plan to focus on stories by and about women."

The Clintons wouldn't be the first Washington power-duo to take Hollywood by storm.

  • Former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama announced a multi-year deal with Netflix last year to produce a slate of documentaries via its new production company. After unveiling the initial slate of programming last month, the former president said he hoped the projects "would promote greater empathy and understanding within the world."
  • Former Vice President Al Gore famously created "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary meant to educate people about global warming, a few years after leaving office in 2006. He unveiled a sequel to the film in 2017.
  • Former White House Strategist Steve Bannon released a film documenting his far-right, populist agenda around the world. Bannon, a former film producer, has long-recognized the power of cinematic diplomacy — a trait not so different from his former boss President Donald Trump.

On the campaign trail, young politicians are looking to elevate their stardom by documenting their campaigns via streaming documentaries.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is in talks about a new project that would chronicle her Green New Deal policy movement, Axios reported earlier this month.
  • She and three other women running for Congress in 2018 were the subjects of the Netflix documentary "Knock Down the House" out earlier this year.
  • Beto O'Rourke's HBO documentary "Running with Beto" debuted earlier this week, documenting the his rise to national stardom.

Be smart: Billionaires are adopting a similar "soft power" strategy. Silicon Valley tycoons like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Steve Jobs' widow Laurene Powell Jobs, and Jeff Bezos have, over the past few years, bought or invested in major national publications like Time magazine, The Atlantic and The Washington Post, respectively.

The big picture: The power of film has always been used as a tool for diplomacy, especially overseas. But the internet era has made it easier than ever to influence opinion in the U.S., especially given the number of streaming apps available to distribute films.

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