On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries Movie Poster Image
Diversity, strong female role models in political docu.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 93 minutes

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Positive Messages

Documentary shows ins and outs of covering a presidential primary, focusing on female correspondents who follow the candidates from state to state. The interviewees discuss the challenges women and people of color in TV news face and have faced in what has historically been an industry dominated by White males. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Female correspondents and journalists from diverse ages, backgrounds, ethnicities show through discussion and example the hard work, drive, and sacrifice it takes to succeed when covering presidential primaries and caucuses, and in TV journalism as a whole. 


News footage of protests in aftermath of police killing of George Floyd. 


"F--k" used several times, including once on a protest sign. Also: "s--t," "ass." 


Documentary is made by CNN and focuses exclusively on CNN reporters. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking. Beer drinking. Talk of needing a drink. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries is a documentary that focuses on the female journalists covering the early months of the 2020 presidential primaries. The interview subjects represent a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities, and the interview subjects discuss their experiences as women and women of color in what has traditionally been an industry dominated by White males. The women interviewed in this documentary are inspiring role models who talk frankly of the challenges and rewards of their jobs, and the sacrifices they must make in their personal and family lives in order to keep up with the 24/7 news cycle of a presidential election. There's some profanity, including "f--k" used several times and seen once on a protest sign from news footage. It also shows violent footage of the police protests in American cities after the killing of George Floyd, plus brief shots of cigarette smoking and beer drinking. 

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What's the story?

ON THE TRAIL: INSIDE THE 2020 PRIMARIES centers on several women of diverse races, ethnicities, and backgrounds who are working to cover the primaries of the 2020 presidential election. It shows well-known CNN correspondents such as Dana Bash, Kyung Lah, and Kaitlan Collins as they report from the campaign trail, traveling (often on very short notice) from one state to the next as they fight to stay on top of the relentless 24/7 news cycle. It also shows the behind-the-scenes work of "embeds" (embedded journalists) who are assigned to the different candidates as they follow Democratic candidates like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg, or the Trump campaign rallies that happen as these primaries are taking place. The long hours, exhausting travel, and personal sacrifices these women are making for their careers are shown and discussed in detail, but these women also discuss their love of their work, and their fervent belief that what they're doing isn't only fulfilling, but also necessary. As candidates begin to suspend their campaigns, and the coronavirus begins to rapidly spread in March, the correspondents and embeds show and discuss how their lives and careers have abruptly changed since quarantines and social distancing measures went into effect. 

Is it any good?

For teens interested in careers in television journalism, this documentary is a must-see. On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries pulls no punches in presenting the challenges of the job -- the long hours, the separation from loved ones, the constant travel -- but it also shows the adrenaline rush and fulfillment the work provides. More experienced correspondents like Dana Bash and Kyung Lah reflect on how far the industry has come since the not-too-distant past when it was dominated by White males, and how the next generation of female journalists are building on this progress with their energy, fearlessness, and determination. 

On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries also offers an inside look at what has already become a historic election year. What begins as a frenzied glimpse into the lives of reporters constantly on the go while trying to keep pace with a 24/7 news cycle concludes with quarantine in makeshift home offices. Those who have lived it already know this contrast between the before and after of COVID-19 in their own lives, and this contrast is especially stark against the backdrop of covering campaign politics. And when the Black Lives Matter protests also emerge near the conclusion, it seems to confirm what was probably meant to be the takeaway from the documentary all along: that now, more than ever, reporting the news as it happens is absolutely necessary for a functioning democracy. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about documentaries. How does On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries compare to other movies that use interview and archival footage to tell true stories?

  • What did you learn about the challenges in covering the campaign of someone running for president of the United States? 

  • How does the documentary show the vast difference in the lives of the interviewees before and after the emergence of COVID-19? How is this similar to what so many have experienced?

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