Former Presidents Obama, Clinton Could Tip Scales in Doc Oscar Race

Crip Camp

As members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 586-member documentary branch weigh which of 15 shortlisted doc features will get their vote to make the list of five Oscar nominees, they are being lobbied by two men who not that long ago were each the most powerful person in the world.

Former President Barack Obama, through Higher Ground, the production shingle that he and Michelle Obama run for Netflix, is an executive producer of Crip Camp, a film about disability activists who emerged from a unique 1960s summer camp for disabled children. And on Thursday, the day before Oscar nomination voting is to get underway, Academy members were able to access, via the Academy's members-only streaming service, a half-hour Q&A that the 44th president moderated with the film's directors, Nicole Newnham and Jim Lebrecht, and subjects Judy Heumann, Denise Sherer Jacobson and Dennis Billups, "to celebrate the amazing work that Jim and Nicole did and that all of you represent." (The Q&A was simultaneously posted to YouTube.)

"I could not be prouder of everybody associated with Crip Camp," Obama said in opening the conversation. "When Michelle and I decided that we would get into the movie business — because we thought it was really important for us to continue to communicate stories that inspired and brought people together and promoted the kinds of values of individual dignity and respect and caring for one another — we couldn't know at that time what stories would come our way. But I tell you, when we saw Crip Camp, we thought that is right in our wheelhouse. That is exactly the sorts of stories we wanted to see. It was inspiring. It was motivating. It spoke to how communities get formed. It taught all of us the effort it requires and the courage it requires to be heard. And how important it is for those of us who, in the past, have been marginalized to sometimes get into what my dear friend John Lewis called 'good trouble' in order to create a better America and a better world. And so it was an easy thing for us to want to be a part of Crip Camp."

Obama continued, "But you never know how things are going to be received. So to see the wonderful interest and outpouring of support that the film has received, to see how it has been used within the disability community to reinforce the values that help build that movement, and to provide encouragement and nurturing to the young people who are coming up behind you guys so that they know the history and the work and the effort that was required and the work that remains. To see how people not in the disability community were educated in ways that blew them away because they weren't aware of this history. And the way in which they made connections between what happened at 'Crip Camp' and the subsequent activism with the other movements for human dignity and justice and respect that took place in the '60s and '70s and continue on to this day. All of that has just been so gratifying for us."

At the end of the conversation, he noted, "This has been a great gift for the disability community and the disability movement, but it has a lesson for each and every one of us. And for that, I could not be more grateful. I think this is going to be one of those lasting cultural artifacts that live on."

Needless to say, not every Hollywood studio is literally in business with a former president — but Netflix isn't the only one that has benefited from the endorsement of a POTUS. America's 43rd president, Bill Clinton, launched his own podcast in February, Why Am I Telling You This?, and his guest on the episode which posted on Thursday is one Steven Garza, the most admirable of the young subjects featured in the Apple TV+ shortlisted doc feature Boys State, which was directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss.

Clinton, like Garza, is an alum of the Boys State student government program at the center of the doc, and reminisces on the episode about getting to meet Pres. John F. Kennedy through it in 1963. Garza tells Clinton, "I'm sure that that left a huge impression on your life and kind of guided you to that sense of like, 'This is what you're destined to do.' And I feel the same feeling now getting the opportunity to speak with you. Five years ago, I didn't expect to be where I am today, but I think I'm doing something right, and so I plan on continuing." Clinton replied, "Obviously, I think you should, and I think you should encourage others."

Hillary Clinton, who almost became the 45th president, has started a podcast of her own, You and Me Both, and recently welcomed to it Stacey Abrams, the subject — and, as of this week, a PGA-marked producer — of Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés's shortlisted doc about voter suppression All In: The Fight for Democracy.