Update, May 21: On Monday, Barack and Michelle Obama formally announced a multiyear partnership with Netflix to produce a collection of films and series for the streamer. The Obamas will produce their original content—which may include scripted and unscripted series, documentaries, and feature films—under their new production company, Higher Ground Productions.
“One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” Barack said in a press release. “That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix—we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”
The news of the Obamas procuring a deal with Netflix was first reported by The New York Times in March. See the original story below.
After scooping up Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, two of the biggest powerhouse television producers in the industry—as well as others like the Coen brothers and David Letterman—it felt safe to assume Netflix’s talent-snatching spree might be over. I mean, who else was even out there to get? Well, how about the Obamas?
On March 8, The New York Times reported that Barack and Michelle Obama are in “advanced negotiations” with Netflix to produce a series of shows for the streamer. The exact nature of the Obamas’ involvement with Netflix is still up in the air. Barack could moderate conversations on topics that mattered to him during his presidency (things like health care, foreign policy, or climate change, for example), while Michelle could focus on nutrition-adjacent programming in line with her health initiatives as first lady. Or they could endorse other programs on Netflix that “align with their beliefs and values.” (Calling it now: They’ll stan for Stranger Things.)
For Netflix, this is obviously a huge win on all fronts—there’s no parallel for it. It puts the company so far ahead of a streaming race it was already winning by a considerable amount. Hulu has the prestige of winning the first Outstanding Drama Series Emmy for a streamer with The Handmaid’s Tale—a show that certainly resonates and reflects the pulse of the notion—but has largely failed to produce a large library of original content to match Netflix. Amazon recently cancelled a good chunk of its critically acclaimed original shows (I Love Dick, One Mississippi) and seems all in on The Lord of the Rings television series becoming its answer to Game of Thrones. (Don’t hold your breath.) Disney will be playing catch-up by the time its streaming service launches in 2019, hoping a vast library of its films—in addition to a live-action Star Wars series from Jon Favreau—will entice subscribers.
Netflix, meanwhile, still has the prestige—Stranger Things, House of Cards, the Oscar-nominated film Mudbound, and the Oscar-winning documentary Icarus, to name a few—as well as the sheer glut of options. The company plans to produce 700 pieces of original programming in 2018 alone. It’s already cornered the stand-up market; three of the five Oscar-nominated documentary features can be streamed on Netflix, and the company even coaxed Letterman out of retirement for a new talk series.
The first of Letterman’s sit-downs was with Barack, which largely avoided any mention of Donald Trump or current politics—as The Ringer’s Alison Herman put it, the chat was “just-two-pals-who-are-also-wealthier-and-more-powerful-than-you-could-ever-imagine” in its execution. That is, per The Times, the Obamas’ intent: To produce stuff that isn’t directly responding to the chaos in the White House; alternate programming, in a sense. The specter of Trump will linger over any conversation about climate change or health care, but following Michelle’s “When they go low, we go high” axiom, those chats would address the issue without naming it.
And that’s fine—Barack and Michelle don’t need to lead the resistance on Netflix. Even if they went the other route, and just streamed chunks of their kite surfing adventures with Richard Branson, I mean, who wouldn’t press play on that? It’s not just the Obamas’ values that are currently missed: it’s the Obamas themselves. Three of Obama’s tweets in 2017 were the most liked on Twitter—one related to the Charlottesville attack, quoting Nelson Mandela, was the most liked in the social network’s history.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..." pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
Regardless of what the Obamas end up producing for Netflix, lots of people will bypass the litany of other options on the streamer and check out what they’ve brought to the table. It is unprecedented for a former POTUS to have this platform—Al Gore’s now-defunct Current TV and climate change documentaries were cut from a different cloth, and from a different technological era—but when it comes closer to fruition, Obama content is going to make a lot of noise. And by association, Netflix will, too.