×

Barack and Michelle Obama Appoint Co-Heads for Higher Ground Productions

The Obamas have started putting together the executive team to head their Higher Ground Productions label,Variety has learned.

Priya Swaminathan, a former director of development at Annapurna, and Tonia Davis, who previously oversaw development for TV and film productions at Chernin Entertainment, have been appointed as co-heads of the Obamas’ production venture. Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama signed a content development pact with Netflix last year.

According to a statement, the Higher Grounds team is putting together the company’s slate of projects, after signing a multi-year agreement with Netflix last year, and we can expect to hear more information soon about the initial project line-up.Swaminathan and Davis will be joined by Qadriyyah “Q” Shamsid-Deen who serves as a creative executive for the company.

“With Higher Ground Productions, we hope to bring people together around common values and uncommon stories—and Priya, Tonia and Q are precisely the people to bring that vision to life,” President Obama said. “They’re masterful storytellers. They’re veterans in the industry. And they not only bring their unique perspectives and life experiences to every project, but they’re committed to finding new voices who have their own stories to tell. Michelle and I couldn’t be more excited about the team we’re assembling.”

The appointments represent the first sign the Obamas are serious about building the company and moving forward with production. The initial statement announcing the multiyear deal between Higher Grounds and Netflix left the door open for developing almost all types of content, from scripted and unscripted series, to docu-series, documentary films, and features.

“Our goal isn’t just to make people think—we want to make people feel and reach outside of their comfort zone,” Michelle Obama said. “With their thoughtfulness, creativity and empathy, we know that Priya, Tonia and Q will find the common thread within every story to inspire us to be something more. I’m thrilled about this team as professionals—and as people. They’re wonderful.”

At Annapurna, Swaminathan oversaw the studio’s film development slate and developed and produced fiction and documentary projects for filmmakers including Spike Jonze, Bennett Miller and George Clooney. In addition to producing Showtime’s “Very Young Girls,” Swaminathan has also produced documentaries for MTV and ESPN.

At Chernin, Davis served as an exec producer on the Amy Schumer comedy “Snatched,” as well as on the original musical “The Greatest Showman” starring Hugh Jackman. Davis previously worked for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, where she played a key role in the production of their recent live action feature remakes including “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Shamsid-Deen joins Higher Ground Productions from Ryan Murphy Television’s Half Initiative, where she served as a program director for the prolific producers efforts to nurture the careers of female directors. Shamsid-Deen he has worked on multiple film and television projects including “Carissa,” “American Horror Story,” “American Crime Story,” “Pose,” “9-1-1,” “The Mick,” “Murder in the First,” “Constantine,” “Table 19,” “Criminal Minds” and “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.”

(Pictured: Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan)

More TV

  • David Harbour Comedy Special 2019

    TV Review: 'Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein'

    One thing the new mockumentary “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” does quite well is prove that there are perks to appearing on a streaming service’s signature hit. David Harbour, the stolid and familiar presence from Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” is given the opportunity to cut loose here with a broad, loopy half-hour that feels a bit like [...]

  • BAFTA headquarters at 195 Piccadilly, London

    BAFTA Undertakes Major Renovation of Its London Headquarters

    BAFTA has undertaken a major renovation of its London headquarters that will double the building’s capacity and increase space devoted to the British academy’s programs to promote skills training and new talent. Work has already begun on the $31 million overhaul, which is expected to take two years. In the interim, BAFTA will relocate its [...]

  • Picture shows: MAKING OF - Underwater

    Netflix Orders 'Oceans' Natural History Series From 'Blue Planet II' Creator

    Netflix has ordered a multi-part natural history series on the world’s oceans from Freeborne Media, the production outfit of acclaimed natural-history producer James Honeyborne, who created “Blue Planet II.” Each of the series’ episodes will focus on a different ocean, “combining the disciplines of oceanography, geography and earth sciences to experience these characteristics in new [...]

  • 13 REASONS WHY

    Netflix Revises Controversial '13 Reasons Why' Suicide Scene

    Netflix has edited the controversial suicide scene from “Thirteen Reasons Why” two years after the show originally premiered. “We’ve heard from many young people that ’13 Reasons Why’ encouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help—often for the first time,” Netflix said in a statement Monday. “As we [...]

  • Russell Tovey on His 'Arrogant and

    Russell Tovey on His 'Arrogant and Heroic' 'Years and Years' Character

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the fourth episode of “Years and Years.” Russell T. Davies’ limited series “Years and Years” began with a birth, but it did not wait until the finale to book-end the story with a death. In the fourth episode of the multi-year spanning family drama, [...]

  • Hugh GRant photographed by Shayan Asgharnia

    Listen: Hugh Grant on Why He Would Kill Social Media if He Could

    Hugh Grant has been very active in U.K. press reform initiatives, but he knows the problem is even bigger than the media moguls who control the world’s major news outlets. That’s why Hacked Off, the campaign he’s involved with, is also expanding its scope to include the impact of online propaganda. “It’s particularly terrifying, the [...]

  • Veronica Mars -- "Heads You Lose"

    TV Review: 'Veronica Mars' Season 4

    “Veronica Mars” was a slap to the face of high school dramas when it premiered on UPN in 2004. Creator Rob Thomas took the well-worn “who killed the pretty teenager?” whodunnit and hard-boiled it, following a traumatized girl desperately trying to harden herself to the world’s harsh realities as she tried to solve the case. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content