Almost exactly a year after entering into a multi-year agreement to produce films and series with Netflix, former president Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions has unveiled its initial slate of upcoming projects. Promising a diverse mix of content, including scripted and unscripted series, documentaries and features, the announcement was made by Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis, co-heads of the company.
“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling,” Obama said of the inspirational projects which touch on a variety of issues including race, class, democracy, civil rights and much more. “That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects.”
Speaking on behalf of Netflix, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said, “President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values. 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.”
Here’s a snapshot of projects announced today, which are currently in different stages of development, to be released in coming years.
– A feature film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s 2018 bestseller “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” for which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History. Blight’s work is an extensive biography of escaped slave, abolitionist, orator and statesman Douglass, observing him both as a man and as a historical figure, based on papers that had not previously been available. No talent is attached at this time. Higher Ground will produce.
– “American Factory” is a feature documentary that was acquired at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary. The Participant Media film, which is directed by Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winners Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” “A Lion in the House”), examines present-day Sino-American relations, with a post-industrial Ohio factory as its setting. A Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires two thousand American workers. An initial optimism soon takes a backseat to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. The producers are Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, and Julie Parker Benello.
– The Sundance Institute-supported feature documentary “Crip Camp,” which was acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. The film will take viewers deep inside the revolutionary era that was the US in the early 1970s, and hone in on a summer camp for disabled teenagers that would transform young lives, and the country 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.
– “Bloom” is described as an upstairs/downstairs (master/servant) post-WWII New York City-set drama series with the world of fashion as the backdrop. Barriers faced by women and people of color will be central to the plot. The series is written and executive produced by Academy Award-winner Callie Khouri (“Thelma and Louise” and the upcoming Aretha Franklin movie at MGM), from an idea developed by Khouri, Canadian writer-director Clement Virgo (“The Book Of Negroes”) and novelist Juliana Maio (“City of the Sun”). Higher Ground Productions, Khouri, Virgo and Maio will executive produce the series.
– In development is a scripted anthology series adapted from The New York Times’ “Overlooked,” an ongoing obituary column that highlights the lives of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper. Liza Chasin of 3dot Productions and Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content are producing.
The New York Times
– A docu-series based on best-selling author Michael Lewis’ 2018 book “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” which takes on the Trump administration and asks the question: What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?
– And for families will be a half-hour preschool series titled “Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” from creators Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”) and Erika Thormahlen. The show will take young children and their families around the world on an adventure that tells us the story of the food that we eat.
Higher Ground expects to make additional project announcements in the coming months.
These projects will be available to the 125 million member Netflix households in 190 countries.