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Monica Lewinsky finally gets something she deserves in ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’

Lewinsky was a producer on the show, which makes some of the more squirm-inducing scenes believable and raw

Rachel Kramer Bussel
New York
Thursday 09 September 2021 09:21 BST
Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp and Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky in ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story'
Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp and Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky in ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story' (FX/Amazon Prime)

There’s a telling moment during the premiere episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story, where Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) confides in her new work friend, Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson), to being “kind of in something” regarding her personal life. She seems to welcome Tripp’s probing, admitting that DC can be lonely. You can almost see the blush forming on Feldstein’s cheeks as she looks down at her lunch tray, clearly full of a proud secret she’s dying to tell, but also savoring. “He’s unavailable,” she says with a smile when Tripp persists in asking about her mystery man.

The scene would’ve been squirm-inducing had Lewinsky not been a producer on the show, the only Clinton administration staffer so involved. Lewinsky’s producer title elevates Impeachment from simply a juicy drama to one that offers a corrective to her treatment by much of the media as more talking-point than person. I’d have felt guilty watching if she hadn’t been part of it.

Lewinsky told People, “Obviously I have personal and selfish reasons…for having participated in Impeachment, but the larger goal is how to move the conversation forward, a sort of collective shift — whether it’s a sex scandal or not, and the kind of blame that was put on a young person and the kind of erasing and turning a blind eye to where responsibility really sat.” In the opening sequence, we watch Lewinsky turn and stare at Tripp in growing horror as they ride an elevator with FBI agents. The scene crystallizes the fear and confusion Lewinsky must have felt at being summoned for interrogation based on personal phone calls she doesn’t yet know Tripp has recorded. The look on Feldstein’s face is haunting, as it should be.

Feldstein told Variety it was a “great gift” that by the time scripts reached her, they’d been vetted by Lewinsky and, “I was sure that everything in there was something that she felt comfortable with, she thought was real to her life, and felt represented her.” I feel better as a viewer, knowing I’m getting a more accurate representation — and not just because, at Lewinsky’s request, we’ll see the flashing of her thong at Clinton on an upcoming episode. In hindsight, it may seem obvious that her choices were naïve, but the show forces us to ask ourselves: Who wasn’t naïve at 22? And did she deserve the betrayal, threats, name-calling and slut-shaming she faced because of that naivety?

Lewinsky could have slunk into the shadows after 1998, ignoring media projects centered around the lowest moments of her life. That she instead showed she can laugh at herself on Twitter and be an advocate for bullying victims is a lesson in resilience we can all learn from. While one critic dubbed the show “pro-Monica Lewinsky propaganda,” I don’t see it that way. Lewinsky is one of three much-maligned women the show revisits, giving equal emphasis and empathy to Tripp and Jones. Lewinsky has said she shouldn’t “get a pass” from the show for her behavior, and she doesn’t. She can admit she was imperfect; we can too, without adding unfair judgment.

Impeachment succeeds at showing Monica as a starry-eyed young woman caught up in a fantasy fueled by Bill Clinton. He escaped the scandal, if not unscathed, then with his family and future career prospects intact. She didn’t.

In the Hulu documentary Hillary, Bill Clinton says, “I feel terrible about the fact that Monica Lewinsky’s life was defined by it, unfairly, I think… I’ve watched her try to get a normal life back again, but you’ve got to decide how to define normal.” Our culture has made it impossible for Lewinsky to return to “normal,” despite her best efforts. She attended graduate school, but was unable to find work. She tried to sell her own book, to no avail. How could she move on if the rest of the world refused to? She deserves the financial compensation that’s allowed her to finally support herself, as well as to have her point of view broadcast, via Feldstein, on the same screens we watched Clinton tell us he didn’t have sexual relations with “that woman.”

It’s not a coincidence that in the years since Lewinsky penned her first Vanity Fair essay in 2014, followed by her TED Talk on shame, she’s being received by our culture in a more positive light. Yes, we read her side in the Starr Report, but there’s a huge difference between being coerced into speaking and voluntarily doing so. I’m reminded of Muriel Ruykeser’s famous line, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?/The world would split open.” Monica’s world did split open, and through this dramatization we’re getting a close-up view of that implosion, but on her terms. She — and we — are better for that.

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