The Obamas and Netflix announce first slate of projects
James R | On 01, May 2019
Last year, the surprising news broke that The Obamas were teaming up with Netflix to form a new storytelling partnership. The aim? To use films and TV series to cultivate and curate talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between people.
Now, we have a better idea of how they plan to do that, with Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis, co-heads of Barack and Michelle’s Higher Ground Productions, have unveiled the company’s initial slate of projects. The content encompasses a wide range of fiction and non-fiction productions, including scripted, unscripted and documentary series, as well as full-length features and documentaries.
“President and Mrs. Obama launched Higher Ground last spring to create content that embodies the core values of celebrating the human spirit through struggles and triumph; facing adversity through resilience, determination, and hope; lifting up new voices and stories to bring about change; and transcending divides to bring us together,” say Swaminathan and Davis. “The projects selected are a reflection of these values and a commitment to quality storytelling. Higher Ground expects to make additional project announcements in the coming months.”
“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,” adds President Obama.
“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,” Mrs. Obama adds. “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 are the projects lined up to be released over the next several years:
This was acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award: 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 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 two thousand 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 Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, and Julie Parker Benello.
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 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.”
Adapted from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column Overlooked, telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper, Higher Ground is developing OVERLOOKED 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
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 best-selling author of The Big Short and Moneyball, and based on his book The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, FIFTH RISK, a non-fiction series, will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.
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 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.