The Obamas Announce New Netflix TV Shows Focusing on Disability Rights, Factory Workers, and Frederick Douglass

Their company, "Higher Ground Productions," just announced the names of the first eight series that it will be releasing.

The Obama family has shifted its focus from one of the most powerful venues in the real world—the White House—to one of the most powerful websites on the Internet: Netflix.

Image via adweek.com

In 2018, the former president and first lady struck a multi-year deal with the platform that will allow them to reach 148 million subscribers, which is only a slight downgrade from the 327.2 million Americans that the president used to be responsible for.

This week, the family announced the first eight shows that will be produced for Netflix through their production company, Higher Ground Productions. Though they plan on avoiding any strictly political content related to the 2020 elections, the former president has emphasized that the films and shows that he and his wife choose to greenlight will still have purpose. "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," he wrote in a statement.

Here are the shows that we know about so far:

  • "American Factory": This documentary, which won Best U.S. Documentary at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of a factory opened in Ohio by a Chinese billionaire in 2014. Higher Ground Productions stated that the film tells the story of "early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America." Directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, it is slated to be the Obama production company's first release, though the release date is still TBA.
  • "Crip Camp": This documentary tells the story of the beginnings of the disability rights movement, focusing on the experiences of several teens in the 1970s at a camp for kids with disabilities located just down the road from Woodstock, New York. It's told from the perspective of Jim LeBrecht, who attended the camp as a child and directed and produced the film alongside Nicole Newham and Sarah Boulder.
  • "Listen to Your Vegetables and Eat Your Parents": This half-hour special for toddlers will focus on the origins of different foods from around the world. In traditional Michelle Obama fashion, it will promote healthy eating by taking "young children and their families around the globe on an adventure that tells us the story of our food."
  • "Bloom": This post-WWII drama tells the story of "barriers faced by women and by people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress." Taking place in New York in the 1950s, it will be produced by Calli Khouri, writer of Thelma and Louise.
  • "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom": This documentary will be an adaption of the Pulitzer-prize winning biography by David W. Blight, which tells the story of Frederick Douglass's ascension from slavery to literacy to seminal Civil Rights speaker.
  • "Overlooked": This scripted anthology series, based on a New York Times initiative, will focus on the stories of "remarkable" people whose deaths were not originally reported by the newspaper, often due to racial bias.
  • "The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy": This series will adapt a book of the same name by Michael Lewis, which focuses on the transition of power from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. The book is an indictment of the lack of knowledge and carelessness with which the Trump administration has managed the United States. "The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy - an agency that deals with some of the most powerful risks facing humanity - waited to welcome the incoming administration's transition team. Nobody appeared. Across the US government, the same thing happened: nothing," reads its description. Though the Obamas seem to want to avoid political statements, any adaption of this book certainly seems poised to be a damning indictment of the current administration.

Though each project is different, they all swivel around the same fundamental purpose: creating unity by offering windows into different worldviews and fostering discussion the way only well-told stories can. "We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling," said the former president. "That's why we couldn't be more excited about these projects."

Image via Salute Magazine

Michelle Obama echoed her husband's sentiments, stating that "Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us and to help us open our minds and hearts to others. Netflix's unparalleled service is a natural fit for the kinds of stories we want to share, and we look forward to starting this exciting new partnership." She added, "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. 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."


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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