9:24am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Barack and Michelle Obama Set Expansive Film and TV Slate at Netflix
Barack and Michelle Obama's Netflix-based production company Higher Ground has set an expansive first slate of projects. Included in the initial slate of seven projects are three features and four TV series, including one for preschoolers.
"We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects,” former President Barack Obama said Tuesday in a statement. “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.”
The Obamas officially signed a multiyear producing deal with Netflix last May. Under the pact, the duo's Higher Ground will produce scripted, unscripted and documentary TV series and movies exclusively for the streamer. The Obamas have already optioned Michael Lewis' book The Fifth Risk to develop as a potential series. Earlier this year, Higher Ground tapped former Chernin film executive Tonia Davis to lead the company alongside Priya Swaminathan, while Qadriyyah "Q" Shamsid-Deen boarded as a creative exec.
"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,” Michelle Obama said. “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 seven projects, currently in various stages of development, that are slated to be released over the next several years:
The documentary 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 doc was directed by Academy Award-nominated and Emmy winners 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 2,000 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 Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert and Julie Parker Benello.
The drama is described an upstairs/downstairs series set in the world of fashion in post-World War II 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.”
The scripted anthology TV series is adapted from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column of the same name, telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper, Higher Ground is developing it 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
The preschool TV series will be a half-hour entry 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, the nonfiction series will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.
This feature-length documentary in production is supported by the Sundance Institute and was 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.
"President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. "The breadth of their initial slate across series, film, documentary and family programming shows their commitment to diverse creators and unique voices that will resonate with our members around the world.”