Unless you’ve been living under a rock — or have been lost in some WiFi-less, dark forest — then you’ve probably heard by now that Netflix announced Monday that the Obamas, both Michelle and Barack, have signed with the on-demand network to produce shows and films.
To some, the multiyear agreement may seem like a way into Hollywood for the former first couple. For others, however, the new deal is clearly something altogether more strategic.
“Leave it to the Obamas to come up with a new, creative and powerful way to reach millions of Americans and advance the values and ideas that they brought to the Oval Office,” California congressman Adam Schiff said of the venture.
Jamia Wilson, executive editor and publisher of Feminist Press, echoed the sentiment.
"Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have a proven track record of being powerful storytellers who use their platform to lift up voices of people whose stories have too often been pushed to the margins or silenced," Wilson told L.A. Weekly. "I'm excited about the ways their creative partnership will contribute to changing the public narrative."
Indeed, with the potential to reach millions of households around the world, the agreement with Netflix is slated to usher in a new age in terms of influence for the Obamas. Through the power of documentaries and features, they’ll be ascending, again, to yet another lofty place. Another key clue: The couple’s new production company is named Higher Ground Productions.
“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,” Michelle Obama said. “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.”
So, is the new alliance going to be bringing about the Obamas’ vision for the future? Obviously. Is it a grand reveal of Netflix’s political sensibilities? That’s a tougher nut to crack because the streaming service has historically featured works — documentaries, in particular — that appeal to people across the spectrum. Nevertheless, the chief content officer for Netflix, Ted Sarandos, is happy to have signed the Obamas.
“Barack and Michelle Obama are … uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better,” Sarandos said. “We are incredibly proud they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities.”
Politics aside, Netflix — a heavyweight when it comes to must-watch originals, with Stranger Things, The Crown and Orange Is the New Black on its roster — is a business. Its higher-ups wouldn’t have entered into this collaboration with the Obamas unless they believed in the former first couple’s ability to produce compelling, aka binge-worthy, series and shows.
“President Obama has long been a gifted storyteller, so it makes sense that he and Mrs. Obama would expand their roles into using film and television to showcase stories that inspire,” April Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite, told L.A. Weekly.
Indeed, Barack Obama has authored award-winning, best-selling books in the past, including The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream; Dreams From My Father; A Story of Race and Inheritance; and children’s book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. Michelle Obama has penned a highly anticipated memoir, Becoming, which will be released in November, and the best-seller American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, among other titles. If the Netflix agreement says anything, it’s that the company trusts the vision of the Obamas’ storytelling.
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When it comes to specific projects, Reign said she predicts the Obamas will produce films from an advocacy perspective, documentaries that push the envelope, acquainting viewers with people from entirely different walks of life.
“One hopes that they will focus on marginalized communities in this country, including the disabled community, indigenous peoples, people of color, the LGBT+ community and all the intersections therein.” Reign also pointed out that daughter Malia Obama, currently attending Harvard, had interned at the Weinstein Company, before its recent fall from grace. “Perhaps this will also be an opportunity for her to become more involved in the entertainment industry.”
The Obamas have unveiled their next move in the chess game of life — and it’s one that we’ll all probably affected by. For sure, it gives “Netflix and chill” more meaning than ever before.
Michele Raphael contributed to this report.