Michelle Obama is a class act – one of the classiest – and her intelligence and poise now look like something from a lost golden age. The publication of her globally bestselling memoir Becoming in 2018 brought her dazzlingly into the public sphere on her own terms. It gave her an international A-list status to rival her husband’s and provided Democrats and non-Trumpians around the world with a manifesto of decency and dignity to cling on to.
Now we have this watchable, but carefully authorised, behind-the-scenes documentary for Netflix (from the Obamas’ company, Higher Ground Productions) about Obama’s American book tour (with a stopover at London’s O2 Arena). It shows her getting in and out of armoured sports utility vehicles, chatting easily and good-naturedly with her security detail, with colleagues and family members backstage, with beaming celebrity moderators onstage (starting with Oprah Winfrey) and with people getting their copies signed in bookstores who often dissolve in floods of tears just in coming face to face with her. (I was sorry, however, that we didn’t get to see again her amusing cameo in the TV comedy Parks and Recreation, which showed Amy Poehler’s earnest public official Leslie Knope reduced to a gibbering fangirl in her presence.)
Obama goes back to the family home in Chicago and talks about her background, and particularly about her late father (who died of MS), about meeting and marrying Barack, about raising children in the White House and about the terrible blow of leaving for the last time: she says she sobbed on the official plane for 30 minutes, partly out of sheer relief that her official duties were over. And this is interspersed with her meetings with girls and women of colour, talking about how her experiences can help them. Malia Obama has a cameo, speaking in a cool, smart vocal-fry.
The film was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, via their Higher Ground Productions banner, and will be released on May 6.
The Obamas were executive producers on Netflix’s “American Factory,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary.
“Becoming” is an intimate look into the life of former First Lady Michelle Obama during a moment of profound change, not only for her personally but for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House. The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.
Documentarian Nadia Hallgren, whose credits include the Oscar-shortlisted doc “After Maria,” directed the film, with Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness, and Lauren Cioffi on board as producers.
Higher Ground co-heads Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis are executive producers on the project, while Maureen A. Ryan is on board as a co-EP.
“Becoming” is the latest addition to the Higher Grounds slate, which also includes a Frederick Douglass biopic and “Bloom,” an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City.