FRONTLINE: Pelosi's Power
Premieres Tuesday, March 22, 2022 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, March 24 at 9:30 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On Demand
This Women’s History Month, FRONTLINE presents "Pelosi’s Power," the first documentary on one of the most powerful and polarizing women in American politics.
With revelatory interviews, the documentary is a gripping and unprecedented look at the life and legacy of the first woman Speaker of the House: how she has gained and wielded power across three decades, and how she has handled grave and continuing challenges to her leadership and to American democracy from former President Donald Trump and his allies.
The 90-minute documentary is produced by one of the most acclaimed teams in broadcast journalism — Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, Philip Bennett, Vanessa Fica and Jim Gilmore — with reporting by Molly Ball, author of the acclaimed book “Pelosi.”
The film draws on dozens of in-depth interviews: with Pelosi herself; with her family; with her staffers, Congressional colleagues and fierce opponents over the years; with White House insiders; and with journalists and authors who have chronicled the career of the woman who is now second in line to the presidency. It all adds up to a vivid portrait of Pelosi’s approach to life and politics, starting with her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland, where her father was mayor.
“Nancy Pelosi is more comfortable with power than any other person I've ever covered,” Susan Page, author of “Madam Speaker,” says in the film. “She grew up in a household where power was like electricity and running water. From the day she was born, she was in a family that was accustomed to seeking power, holding power and using power. And it's in her bones.”
The documentary explores how Pelosi navigated what her former chief of staff Judy Lemons calls “entrenched paternalism and crude sexism” after being elected to Congress as one of only 23 women in the 435-person chamber. And it investigates her ascent to the highest ranks of the U.S. government as she fought for policies in support of her self-described lifelong ambition: creating a better future for “the children.”
“Nancy Pelosi came up in a historical era where you increasingly did see politics as combat,” says Molly Ball. “So she always said, ‘Every morning, I put on a suit of armor, eat nails for breakfast and go out and do battle.’” says Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, “Nancy Pelosi has never been accused of bringing a knife to a gunfight.” That approach would help to make her what author Rebecca Traister calls “a remarkably rich target for the right wing.” “She's a no-holds-barred politician that was about partisan warfare 100 percent of the time,” former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, says in the film.
“Pelosi’s Power” offers unique insights into Pelosi’s strategy for locking down votes within her own party: “When I would walk into her office, there’d be chocolates on the table in front of you, from her beloved Ghirardelli, which is a chocolate manufacturer in her district, but there’d also be a stack of baseball bats signed by the San Francisco Giants,” says former Democratic congressman Steve Israel. “The message was: we can do this the sweet and easy way or we can do this the hard way. But we will do it.”
The documentary also shows how Pelosi faced off with Donald Trump over and over again throughout his presidency, including twice leading the effort to impeach him. In particularly vivid scenes, the film traces how Pelosi took charge on Jan. 6, 2021, after being targeted by the pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol.
“She found herself in a singular position of power, with a singular responsibility at this crucial and dangerous moment, and that was not an accident,” author and contributing Washington Post columnist Matt Bai says in the documentary. “That was a long time coming.”
A lightning rod. A mother of five. A pioneering politician. As the country navigates myriad crises and questions swirl about whether the Democrats and Pelosi can hold onto power in the 2022 midterms, the documentary offers an illuminating window into Nancy Pelosi: who she is, what drives her, and why she believes democracy itself is what’s now at stake.
Dozens of interviews with sources from the making of “Pelosi’s Power” will be published on FRONTLINE’s website as part of The FRONTLINE Transparency Project.
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A FRONTLINE production with Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd. The director is Michael Kirk. The producers are Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, Philip Bennett and Vanessa Fica. The reporter and producer is Jim Gilmore. The reporter is Molly Ball. The writers are Michael Kirk & Mike Wiser. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. Distributed internationally by PBS International.