Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Netflix-based production company, Higher Grounds Productions, has announced its first seven projects, including a feature adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, and a kids’ series, Listen to Your Vegetables and Eat Your Parents, that takes families on an adventure around the world, telling the story of food.
Higher Grounds was formed last year with the intent to develop and produce scripted and unscripted TV and film projects that “celebrate the human spirit through struggles and triumph” and that lift up “new voices and stories to bring about change.” The first slate embodies these values, said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content head: “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.”
“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling,” former president Obama said. “That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects. 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 are one of several high-profile producers that Netflix has brought into its fold over the last few years, including showrunnners like Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris, and Ryan Murphy. Unlike those creators, of course, the Obamas are new to the entertainment business. But Netflix is betting on their combination of liberal values and celebrity to attract a following among Netflix’s 149 million members.
Higher Grounds’ first slate includes the following projects, which are in varying states of development:
—American Factory, winner of the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the acquired film is set in post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in an abandoned General Motors plant and hires two thousand blue-collar American workers. Initial hope and optimism quickly gives way to challenges as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. Produced by Participant Media, the film is directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert.
—Bloom, an upstairs-downstairs drama series set in the word of fashion in post World War II New York City. The show depicts the barriers faced by women and people of color in that era, and is written and executive-produced by Oscar-winner Callie Khorui (Thelma & Louise). The idea was developed by Khouri, writer-director Clement Virgo (The Book of Negroes, The Wire) and novelist and producer Juliana Maio (City of the Sun).
—Overlooked, a scripted anthology series adapted from The New York Times‘ obituary column. The purpose is to tell the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the paper.
—Listen to Your Vegetables and Eat Your Parents, a half-hour preschool series from creators Jeremy Konner (Drunk History) and Erika Thormahlen.
—The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, a nonfiction series based on the book by Michael Lewis. The aim is to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.
—Crip Camp, a feature documentary about the ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers that transformed lives, and America, forever by setting in motion the disability rights movement in the 1970s. The film is supported by the Sundance Institute and was acquired by Higher Ground and Netflix. The film is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham.