Higher Ground Productions is the brainchild of Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama, which was launched after the former US president and first lady signed a multi-year deal with Netflix. The first wave of content that came out of that partnership has docuseries and feature films, including “Becoming” and “American Factory.” The company is set to tell stories that incorporate the values the power couple has propagated all their lives.
In her statement about the venture, Michelle Obama said they created the company to harness the power of storytelling, and the contents that they will be rolling out will accommodate different kinds of people.
From the wonders of nature to tasty foods and the intricacies of government and humans around the globe, the Obamas went all out to accommodate people from different walks of life. You might need to clear your Netflix schedule as we rounded up all the projects brought to you by the Obamas, both released and in the works.
More than two years after striking a deal with Netflix, the Obamas are already rolling out programs for the network. Out of the myriad of works in the pipelines, three have been released and are available for viewing on Netflix.
— American Factory Film (@afactoryfilm) January 27, 2020
The documentary film debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The project follows the efforts of a Chinese billionaire who ventures into reopening an abandoned car factory in Ohio. When activities commence on the site, the post-industrial move in Ohio seems to be going well, with up to two thousand jobs created and a breath of hope spread around the area. However, things become a bit more complicated following a cultural clash between American and Chinese workers.
The Oscar-nominated documentary was directed by Steven Bogna and Julia Reichert while the Obamas executive-produced it. The diversity between the American working-class technologically advanced nation of China is the major focus of the project. Blue-collar Americans and high-tech Chinese would always have their differences, which caused some setbacks in the project the Chinese billionaire set out to do.
Directed by Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning film gurus, American Factory bagged the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, among other recognition by prestigious award bodies. Steven and Julia also produced the doc, alongside Jeff Reichert and Julie Parker Benello.
You can stream American Factory on Netflix here. The documentary about a plant in Dayton, Ohio, that makes windshields has been earmarked as a must-watch.
In case you missed Michelle Obama’s blockbuster memoir tour, Becoming has come to the rescue. The documentary takes a dive into the events that follow the former first lady’s transition to life after the White House. All the excitement that accompanied the beloved former first lady during the tour can be seen in this small-screen project.
The documentary revolves around the tour for her book of the same title. The best-seller explores her childhood before she married Barack, built a family with him, and eventually journeyed to the White House. To spread the news about the book, Michelle Obama travelled to 34 cities in the United States where she met and connected with people one on one and also spoke at big events held at high-capacity locations. A first look at the documentary shows the charismatic former first lady conversing with a group of young women as they ask her questions about her life post-first lady duties.
Becoming was released on May 6, 2020, with Michelle Obama, Marilyn Ness, Katy Chevigny, Lauren Cioffi, serving as producers while Nadia Hallgren directed the piece. Published by several companies, including Crown Publishing Group, the book that gave rise to the documentary won three awards – Best Spoken Word Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards, Outstanding Literary Work- Biography / Auto-biography at the NAACP Image Award (2019), and an Audie Award for Autobiography/Memoir in 2020.
You can watch Becoming on Netflix here.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Among the few released projects is Crip Camp, a feature-length documentary film that captures pivotal moments in the disability rights movement during the 1970s. To further depict the real-life situations that define the movement, Jim LeBrecht co-directed the project alongside Nicole Newnham. LeBrecht played a crucial role in the actual movement and during historical events. Producers include Nicole Newnham, James LeBrecht, and Sara Bolder, while Barack Obama, Priya Swaminathan, Michelle Obama, Tonia Davis, Howard Gertler played the role of executive producers.
Crip Camp has its location at a summer camp for disabled teenagers where LeBrecht was a camper with several others. The camp’s major purpose is to transform young lives through the disability rights movement that unfolded in the ramshackle summer campground. Thus, the documentary film focuses on the campers who turned into activists to fight for their rights. Crip Camp premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2020, winning the Audience Award. Netflix released the piece on March 25, 2020, to rave reviews.
You can watch Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution on Netflix here.
Projects in the Works
With three projects dropped, Higher Ground Productions is just getting started. The Obamas still have a lineup of projects in the pipeline to keep Netflix fans busy.
Waffles + Mochi
Catch Michelle Obama on Waffles + Mochi as the TV program drops its first episode on 16th March 2021. From tidbits reaching the media, it has been established that the show captures the former first lady as she teaches the steps involved in cooking homemade meals and the importance of it. The show also features puppets on set – Waffles – a blue puppet and Mochi – a smiling little pink rice cake. Overall, Waffles and Moochi is a TV series cum cooking show for kids split into ten parts.
Michelle’s role on the show is that of a supermarket owner who embarks on an adventure with The Land Of Frozen Food residents – Waffles and Mochi. They travel the globe with the help of her magic shopping trolley to learn about food in different cultures. Guest stars like Rashida Jones, Tan France, Zach Galifianakis, Gaten Matarazzo, Jack Black, Sia, Common, and Mandy Moore will also grace the show.
The TV series targets kids who are sure to learn a lot from Michelle and her pals – Waffles and Moochi. According to the former first lady, she can only wish the show was available when her daughters were growing “Because it’s the kind of program that’s fun to watch together as a family, and gives parents the peace of mind to know that their little ones are learning something, too.”
Imagine a world where you can travel far away and leave your problems behind. In Exit West, a couple, Saeed and Nadia, discovers supernatural doors with other refugees, and through these doors, they are able to move around the world without restrictions.
Exit West is an adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel of the same title. A mixture of love stories and refugee issues, the Pakistani author captures issues with emigration and some of the challenges faced by refugees.
Director Rian Johnson and writer Ola Shokunbi team up on this one. The science-fiction feature film is gathering up steaming excitement from prospective viewers and is expected to be a blockbuster if Johnson’s past works are anything to go by. Rian Johnson has critically acclaimed productions like Knives Out and Star Wars: The Last Jedi under his belt.
This one is a biopic about a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer named Tenzing Norgay. His name entered the history books in 1953 when he became one of the first climbers to summit the great Mount Everest. The mountaineer accomplished this feat with Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953.
The biopic, Tenzing, has documentary director Jennifer Peedom in her narrative debut. She is working from a script by Luke Davies, which was adapted from Ed Douglas’s book Tenzing: Hero of Everest.
The Young Wife
Get your guessing game on for this off-kilter movie. Directed by Tayarisha Poe, The Young Wife is about a woman in her late twenties named Celestina. She attends a party which could be her wedding, or not. You can unravel the mysteries as the bride-to-be feels like something doesn’t add up on her wedding day as a storm looms.
The Firekeeper’s Daughter
In her debut project as a published author, Angeline Boulley is already getting a film adaption. The Firekeeper’s Daughter tells the story of an 18-year-old Native American who is forced into an FBI investigation after witnessing a gruesome murder. Daunis, in the process of helping FBI operations, makes new discoveries about a drug causing several deaths in her community. She is now left to decide how far she can go to protect her community.
Great National Parks
You can enjoy an all-expense-paid trip through nature by visiting amazing places in the United States and beyond on this documentary series. There are many national parks scattered all over the world, and James Honeyborne, the author of Blue Planet II, is set to take viewers around the globe for the best experience.
In all, Great National Parks is a history TV series about nature and wildlife parks around the world.
Ada Twist, Scientist
The creator of Doc McStuffins and Vampirina, Chris Nee, is teaming up with the Obamas for this project that targets preschoolers. The TV series is based on the bestselling books from author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts. Ada Twist, Scientist focuses on a Black girl, Ada Twist, who is overly interested in anything science. She is always on a mission to learn something new through her curious and adventurous nature.
The book – Ada Twist, Scientist is a #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestseller.
Bloom is a post-WWII fashion television series set in NYC with the spotlight on the struggles of women and people of color in a world filled with challenges for their kind. Callie Khouri, who created the hit TV series Nashville and classic film Thelma and Louise, is the writer and producer for Bloom. Higher Ground Productions is working with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker as the executive producer.
To learn a few things about the history of fashion and the challenges people of color faced in the industry post-WWII in the city of New York, get ready for this project. Bloom is set in the late 1940s and ’50s.
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
This novel about Frederick Douglass, an American abolitionist, is being adapted into a film. Written by David W. Blight, the book won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History, but it was originally published on October 16, 2018. The feature film adaption will also focus on the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass, whose name is still revered for his contributions as a social reformer and antislavery writings.
Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents
Another family program that targets preschool kids. From creators Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”) and Erika Thormahlen, Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents is designed to take viewers around the globe in a bid to learn about food. The preschool series will last for half an hour per episode.
Much like Waffles + Mochi, Mrs. Obama is really out to promote healthy living by catching them young. Other similar projects she has embarked on are the Let’s Move! Initiative and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
A scripted anthology series inspired by The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column of the same title, Overlooked, will cover the stories of groundbreakers whose deaths were not reported by the tabloid but deserve to be heard. To bring this to the small screen, Higher Ground is teaming up with producers Liza Chasin and Joy Gorman Wettels.
The G Word with Adam Conover
Mostly inspired by Michael Lewis’s “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” Adam Conover will be hosting this investigative comedy series that takes a dive at federal bureaucracy. Conover will blend documentary and sketch comedy to tackle the complexity of government.
Overall, the projects Higher Ground Productions is rolling out are in different development stages and will take several years to be released. The Obamas’s multiyear deal with Netflix, which is apparently lucrative, promises nothing but entertaining original shows and movies for your viewing pleasure. Additionally, there is something for everyone, both the young and old.