Former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama have kept plenty busy since leaving the White House, including launching their own production company through Netflix last year. While not many details about the partnership had been revealed previously, the Obamas just announced this week their first slate of projects for the streaming service.
The Obamas' company, Higher Ground Productions -- which is headed by Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis -- is currently developing seven projects that are set for release in the next few years. Included in the mix are both scripted and unscripted series, as well as feature and documentary films, aimed at a wide range of ages and audiences.
“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling,” said President Obama in a statement. “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.”
"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," added Michelle Obama. "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."
Here's a breakdown of what's in the pipeline for Higher Ground and Netflix in the coming years:
- “American Factory” 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 Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” “A Lion in the House,” “Seeing Red”). The 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. Bognar produces, alongside Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, and Julie Parker Benello.
- “Bloom” is an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and by people of color in an era characterized by both hurdles and progress. It is written and executive produced by Khouri (“Nashville,” “Thelma and Louise”), 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.
- 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.
- Adapted from the New York Times’ obituary column Overlooked, telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper, Higher Ground is developing the concept as a scripted anthology series with producers Liza Chasin of 3dot Productions and Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content.
- For family programming, “Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” will be a half-hour preschool series 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.
- From Michael Lewis, the author of “The Big Short” and “Moneyball,” and based on his book “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” “Fifth Risk,” a non-fiction series, will portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.
- “Crip Camp” is a feature-length documentary film in production that is supported by the Sundance Institute and 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 teenagers with disabilities that would 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.