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Barack and Michelle Obama Set ‘The Fifth Risk,’ Frederick Douglass Biopic Among Initial Netflix Projects

Higher Ground Productions, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company in partnership with Netflix, has unveiled an initial slate of projects that include adaptations of Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk,” a Frederick Douglass biopic and a period drama set in the fashion world penned by Callie Khouri.

The content comprises a range of scripted and unscripted projects for a range of audiences, as well as full-length features and documentaries. Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis, the co-heads of the organization, revealed the slate on Tuesday.

The announcement includes seven projects that are in various different stages of development, to be released over the next several years.

The former President and first lady launched Higher Ground last spring.

“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects,” Barack Obama said. “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.”

Higher Ground has made a point of focusing on stories that reflect a range of “interests and experiences” but are “relevant to our daily lives,” Michelle Obama said. “We think there’s something here for everyone—moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can’t wait to see these projects come to life — and the conversations they’ll generate.”

Here’s a rundown of Higher Ground projects to date:

  • “American Factory” was acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary. From Participant Media, the film is directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” “A Lion in the House,” “Seeing Red”). The film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires 2,000 blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.  Bognar produces, alongside Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, and Julie Parker Benello.
  • “Bloom” is an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and by people of color in an era characterized by both hurdles and progress. It is written and executive produced by Khouri (“Nashville,” “Thelma and Louise”), from an idea developed by Khouri, writer-director Clement Virgo (“The Book Of Negroes,” “The Wire,” “Empire”) and novelist and producer Juliana Maio (“City of the Sun”). Higher Ground Productions, Khouri, Virgo and Maio will executive produce the series.
  • Higher Ground is producing a feature film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” for which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History.
  • Adapted from the New York Times’ obituary column Overlooked, telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper, Higher Ground is developing the concept as a scripted anthology series with producers Liza Chasin of 3dot Productions and Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content.
  • For family programming, “Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” will be a half-hour preschool series from creators Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”) and Erika Thormahlen. The show will take young children and their families around the globe on an adventure that tells us the story of our food.
  • From Lewis, the author of “The Big Short” and “Moneyball,” and based on his book “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” “Fifth Risk,” a non-fiction series, will portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.
  • “Crip Camp” is a feature-length documentary film in production that is supported by the Sundance Institute and acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. Just down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for teenagers with disabilities that would 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.

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