The series, which launches globally on April 27, is timed to correspond with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s 83-day presidential run, which officially began on March 16, 1968, and ended with his assassination at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel barely three months later.
Directed and executive produced by Dawn Porter (“Gideon’s Army,” “Trapped”) the series explores Kennedy’s transformation from a law-and-order leader to progressive social justice and civil rights crusader.
Kennedy served as U.S. Attorney General under the administration of his brother, John F. Kennedy (who was assassinated in 1963), and as a U.S. senator from New York before he was gunned down at the age of 42. The four-parter will highlight Kennedy’s work from 1961 to 1968.
Porter was originally approached in 2015 to direct a docu about Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan’s ongoing legal case. But after doing research she discovered aspects of Kennedy’s life that were intriguing. Porter wanted to share her findings.
“There is so much to his career and life that isn’t talked about,” Porter said. “Also there’s really not a soup-to-nuts Bobby Kennedy piece. There is a lot on his death, but I didn’t want to just focus on his death because so often when we talk about Bobby Kennedy we focus on the assassination or we focus on his relationship with JFK. This series is about a story that you think you know, but you don’t really know.”
With executive producer Laura Michalchyshyn, Porter teamed with RadicalMedia in 2015 to develop the film.
“When Dawn and I sat down with (Radical’s) Justin Wilkes to talk about this project, all three of us realized that this story is bigger than a one-off documentary,” Michalchyshyn said. “We knew it needed to be a series.”
Netflix agreed and acquired the project in 2016. “Bobby Kennedy For President” is produced by RadicalMedia, Trilogy Films, and LooksFilm.
To tell the seven-year story, Porter relied on rare and never-before-seen archival footage – much of it digitized for the first time thanks to Netflix. In all, Porter and her team sifted through 240 hours of archival footage from local and national news outlets, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew and Associates,” as well as presidential, Guggenheim and Smithsonian archives.
“We found a lot of footage from Bobby’s campaign that is now only used as B-roll to tell other stories from that time,” Porter says. “I really wanted to take that footage and put it out there front and center.”
What the director did not want to do is make a biopic.
“My focus was, what did it take for Bobby, a politician in the public eye, to change and morph over time?” Porter said. “It was important to me to tell that part of the story because it’s a story that is really relevant today. We’re currently in a place where we dismiss so much of what politicians on either side have to say. The public’s distrust can be directly traced to a feeling that politicians are self-serving and insincere. Bobby reminds us that politics can and should serve the public good.”
Porter and Michalchyshyn secured interviews with RFK confidantes and staffers, including Harry Belafonte, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Neil Gallagher, Dolores Huerta, Ambassador William Vanden Heuvel, Paul Schrade, Franklin A. Thomas, William Arnone, Marian Wright Edelman, and Peter Edelman.
Munir Sirhan, brother of RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan, is also interviewed.
“Dawn didn’t want historians guiding us through Bobby’s political career,” said Michalchyshyn. “She wanted to be immersive and tell the story as if the viewer were there and experiencing that period of time in a first person narrative manner. To do that we needed the voices of people who worked with and knew Bobby.”
Porter intentionally did not approach RFK’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, or his nine surviving children for interviews.
“I focused on Bobby’s career so family members were a bit removed from what I was going after,” Porter explained. “Also I feel like we ask enough of that family.”