News and Commentary

Here Are The Seven Projects Barack And Michelle Obama Are Developing For Netflix

Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are gearing up to push their social justice messages on Netflix. After staffing up this past February, the famous couple’s production company, Higher Ground, has announced the slate of seven projects that will appear on the streaming giant. The seven projects include three feature films and four TV series, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

In a statement announcing the projects, former President Obama said that Higher Ground is proud to use the power of dramatic narrative to explore social justice issues. “We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling,” he said. “That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects. Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect and inspire us all.”

Higher Ground will be developing a variety of content, from scripted to non-scripted series along with documentary films. Variety reported earlier this year that the Obamas put together an impressive executive team of varying film pedigrees. Priya Swaminathan, a former director of development at Annapurna, and Tonia Davis, former head of development at Chernin Entertainment, were both appointed as co-heads of Higher Ground. Qadriyyah “Q” Shamsid-Deen will also serve as a creative executive for the company.

Michelle Obama said the new slate of seven projects will offer something “for everyone” that will likely generate conversations. “We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it’s all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives,” she said. “We think there’s something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can’t wait to see these projects come to life — and the conversations they’ll generate.”

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said that Higher Ground will express Barack and Michelle Obama’s “core values,” hailing their slate as a symbol of their commitment to “diverse creators and unique voices.”

“President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values,” Sarandos said. “The breadth of their initial slate across series, film, documentary, and family programming shows their commitment to diverse creators and unique voices that will resonate with our members around the world.”

While some of the projects in the Higher Ground slate will indeed explore social justice messages, some, such as the Frederick Douglass biopic, should be fascinating in their own right. Here are the seven projects as profiled by The Hollywood Reporter:

American Factory
The documentary was acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the directing award for U.S. documentary. From Participant Media, the film is directed by Academy Award-nominated and Emmy winners Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, A Lion in the House, Seeing Red). The acclaimed film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires 2,000 blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. The producers are Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert and Julie Parker Benello.

The drama is described an upstairs/downstairs series set in the world of fashion in post-WW II New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and by people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress. Bloom is written and executive produced by Academy Award-winner Callie Khouri (Nashville, Thelma and Louise, the upcoming Aretha Franklin movie at MGM), from an idea developed by Khouri, writer-director Clement Virgo (The Book of Negroes, The Wire, Empire) and novelist and producer Juliana Maio (City of the Sun). Higher Ground Productions, Khouri, Virgo and Maio will executive produce the series.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
Higher Ground is producing a feature film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, for which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History. The New York Times called the book “an ambitious and empathetic biography of a major American life.”

The scripted anthology TV series is adapted from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column of the same name, telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper, Higher Ground is developing it as a scripted anthology series with producers Liza Chasin of 3dot Productions and Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content.

Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents
The preschool TV series will be a half-hour entry from creators Jeremy Konner (Drunk History) and Erika Thormahlen. The show will take young children and their families around the globe on an adventure that tells us the story of our food.

Fifth Risk
From Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of The Big Short and Moneyball, and based on his book The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, the nonfiction series will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.

Crip Camp
This feature-length documentary film in production is supported by the Sundance Institute and was acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. Just down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers that would transform young lives, and America, forever by helping to set in motion the disability rights movement. The film is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham. Producers include Newnham, LeBrecht and Sara Bolder, with executive producer Howard Gertler.