Barack Obama was the youngest president in American history, so a unique retirement is not particularly surprising. Obama had no plans to give up work in his 50s, and his retirement has sparked the creation of a production company in cooperation with Netflix. Their goal is to use the streaming platform to reach a large audience, discussing subjects that lack the mainstream attention they deserve.
The Obama’s production project has taken the name “Higher Grounds”: a reference to the now-famous speech Michelle Obama gave during the 2016 Clinton campaign. The quote has become something of a motto for the family, in their approach to politics and public issues.
In a statement to press, Mrs. Obama said:
“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects.” President Obama added: “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 first film to come from Higher Grounds was American Factory, bought by Netflix following its premiere at Sundance in 2019. American Factory tells the story of a Chinese factory that opened in the American postindustrial Midwest, approaching a complicated subject from the perspective of globalization. The film won an Oscar for Best Documentary, highlighting the level of ambition the Obamas have in regards to their newly-formed project.
This upcoming project has already made headlines, due to the Obama’s involvement and the success of American Factory. It’s an upstairs-downstairs drama set in New York in the wake of WW2. The film is Higher ground’s first venture into the world of fictional cinema.
Bloom is said to explore topics of race, gender and discrimination, in an era seen through rose-colored glass by many as a golden age for the middle class. However, this was far from the case within the African-American community, and Bloom isn’t shy about proving it.
Higher Grounds is also working on a film based on the biography of Frederick Douglas, known as the Prophet of Freedom. The biography was written by David W. Blight, and won the Pulitzer prize for history. It was dubbed an “ambitious and empathetic biography of a major American life.”
Obviously, the Obamas are interested in continuing conversations on race, and this book delves into the history of racial justice in a thoughtful, planned way.
Overlooked is a column written for the New York Times, serving as an obituary for people overlooked in modern society. Rights have been acquired by Higher Ground, and they are set to produce an anthology series based on the column.
Higher ground will work with producers Liza Chasin of 3dot Productions, and Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content. The series will be scripted and will not follow a traditional documentary format: for the time being, no further details are known.
Listen to Your Vegetables and Eat Your Parents
Higher Ground will also dive into children’s programming, taking children on a tour around the world as it shows how food makes its journey to household tables. The show will be spearheaded by Jeremy Konner–creator of Drunk History, and Erika Thormahlen. The series is set to continue Michele Obama’s work on making healthy diet a major priority.
Fifth Risk is another show tailor-made for the Obamas and their approach to public institutions. Both Barack and Michael Obama have expressed great faith in the importance of public service for the country. They believe that such service comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Fifth Risk is based on a book by Michael Lewis: best-selling author of The Big Short and Moneyball. The book features the work of public servants, who often go underappreciated by those they serve.
Which project from Higher Grounds are you most excited for?