Barack and Michelle Obama are going to Hollywood and have begun staffing their production company, following their deal with Netflix last year.
“Priya Swaminathan, a former director of development at Annapurna, and Tonia Davis, who previously oversaw development for TV and film productions at Chernin Entertainment, have been appointed as co-heads of the Obamas’ production venture,” reports the outlet. “Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama signed a content development pact with Netflix last year.”
Variety further examined the new executive team’s long list of creative credentials that includes big titles like “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
At Annapurna, Swaminathan oversaw the studio’s film development slate and developed and produced fiction and documentary projects for filmmakers including Spike Jonze, Bennett Miller and George Clooney. In addition to producing Showtime’s “Very Young Girls,” Swaminathan has also produced documentaries for MTV and ESPN.
At Chernin, Davis served as an exec producer on the Amy Schumer comedy “Snatched,” as well as on the original musical “The Greatest Showman” starring Hugh Jackman. Davis previously worked for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, where she played a key role in the production of their recent live action feature remakes including “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Shamsid-Deen joins Higher Ground Productions from Ryan Murphy Television’s Half Initiative, where she served as a program director for the prolific producers efforts to nurture the careers of female directors. Shamsid-Deen he has worked on multiple film and television projects including “Carissa,” “American Horror Story,” “American Crime Story,” “Pose,” “9-1-1,” “The Mick,” “Murder in the First,” “Constantine,” “Table 19,” “Criminal Minds,” and “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.”
Going forward, the Higher Ground team will be assembling the company’s slate of development projects that will eventually appear on Netflix. Qadriyyah “Q” Shamsid-Deen will also serve as a creative executive for the company.
“With Higher Ground Productions, we hope to bring people together around common values and uncommon stories—and Priya, Tonia and Q are precisely the people to bring that vision to life,” former President Obama said in a statement. “They’re masterful storytellers. They’re veterans in the industry. And they not only bring their unique perspectives and life experiences to every project, but they’re committed to finding new voices who have their own stories to tell. Michelle and I couldn’t be more excited about the team we’re assembling.”
Higher Ground will be developing a variety of content, from scripted to non-scripted series along with documentary films. Michelle Obama said the content will make people reach outside their comfort zone.
“Our goal isn’t just to make people think—we want to make people feel and reach outside of their comfort zone,” the former First Lady said. “With their thoughtfulness, creativity and empathy, we know that Priya, Tonia and Q will find the common thread within every story to inspire us to be something more. I’m thrilled about this team as professionals—and as people. They’re wonderful.”
In May of last year, Netflix announced it would be adding to its board of directors former Obama administration United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice.
“We are delighted to welcome Ambassdor Rice to the Netflix board,” said Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings at the time. “For decades, she has tackled difficult, complex global issues with intelligence, integrity and insight and we look forward to benefiting from her experience and wisdom.”
Former Ambassador Rice said she was “thrilled” to be joining the “cutting-edge” company.
“I am thrilled to be joining the board of directors of Netflix, a cutting-edge company whose leadership, high-quality productions, and unique culture I deeply admire,” said former Ambassador Rice.