Even though Barack and Michelle Obama no longer occupy the White House, these days, they’re looking to occupy our houses — in the form of high-quality, Netflix streaming content, that is. The power couple announced their plans to venture into entertainment in May 2018 with the formation of their new Netflix imprint, Higher Ground Productions, and since then, fans of the former President and First Lady have been eagerly awaiting more details about movies and projects the Obamas and Netflix will produce next.
First up is American Factory, a documentary that won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Higher Ground Productions acquired the rights to the documentary, directed by Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winners Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, A Lion in the House) for an undisclosed amount.
The film, premiered on Netflix on 21st August, goes inside a glass factory in Moraine, Ohio, run by Chinese manufacturing company Fuyao and housed within a former General Motors factory. Culture clashes arise out of what initially appeared to be a promising new chapter for the working-class town, as both the Chinese workers brought overseas and the American workers themselves begin to realise the precariousness of both their situations.
“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others,” Michelle Obama said in a statement in May 2018. And indeed, the rest of Higher Ground’s slate appears to be equally compelling.
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Movie)
One of the Obamas’ bigger projects is a feature film adaptation of David W. Blight’s 2018 bestseller, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. The biopic will likely cover a wide swath of Douglass’s life, much as the book does, including his interrelated roles as an escaped slave, abolitionist, orator, and statesman.
Crip Camp (Documentary)
Very much in line with the Obamas’ championing of human rights, Crip Camp is a look at one summer camp for disabled teenagers and its role in sparking the disability rights movement. Set in the early 1970s, the feature documentary, which was made with the support of the Sundance Institute, is actually directed by a former camper, Jim LeBrecht, and Nicole Newnham.
A series set in post-WWII New York City, Bloom has been described in press releases as an “upstairs/downstairs” sort of period drama (think: Downton Abbey for a different era). The series is said to center women and people of colour, and will be written and executive produced by Callie Khouri, who won an Oscar for her involvement with Thelma and Louise and created the hit TV series Nashville.
Overlooked (Anthology Series)
Based on the New York Times’ “Overlooked” obituary column, which highlights the lives of remarkable individuals whose deaths never make it into the paper, this scripted anthology series will likely be full of heart-warming and eye-opening stories. Get those tissues ready!
The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy (Series)
The most explicitly political of the Obamas’ current projects, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, is based on Michael Lewis’ 2018 book by the same name. Essentially, the book looks at the current administration and poses this essential question: What are the consequences if those in charge of our government have no idea how it works?
Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents (Children's Series)
The Obamas are looking to expand their reach into children’s programming as well, with a half-hour preschool series from the creator of Drunk History, Jeremy Konner, and actress and child educator Erika Thormahlen. Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents will take young viewers around the world to learn stories about the foods that we eat.