Titled “Becoming,” after the memoir which published in late 2018, the doc offers a rare, up-close look at Michelle Obama’s life, taking viewers behind-the-scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour to promote her book. Both the memoir and the film are about highlighting the power of community to bridge divides and the spirit of connection that comes when people openly and honestly share their stories.
The doc drops on Netflix May 6 and hails from the Obamas’ exclusive development pact with the streamer via their Higher Ground Productions banner, which they launched last year. Documentarian Nadia Hallgren, whose credits include the Oscar-shortlisted doc “After Maria,” directed the film, with Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness and Lauren Cioffi on board as producers.
Accompanying the announcement is a first look trailer for “Becoming” and a note from Michelle Obama (shared in full at the bottom of his article), in which she expresses hope that the film will offer viewers “joy and a bit of respite” during our collective “struggle to weather this pandemic.”
In her own statement on the film, Hallgren says that she was approached by Higher Ground with the idea of filming Obama during her tour, and was granted a 30-minute meeting with the former First Lady to decide whether she was the right fit to make “Becoming.” She also explains how difficult it was to shoot Michelle because she is “flanked by Secret Service everywhere she goes.”
“She moves quickly and I had to learn to move with her — I filmed in tight, private spaces in a way that required the smallest possible footprint, but also allowed me to build a close relationship with her,” Hallgren writes in her note.
Higher Ground co-heads Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis are executive producers on the project, while Maureen A. Ryan is on board as a co-EP.
“Becoming” is the latest addition to the Higher Grounds slate, which also includes a Frederick Douglass biopic and “Bloom,” an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City.
Read Michelle Obama’s full note on “Becoming” below:
I’m excited to let you know that on May 6, Netflix will release BECOMING, a documentary film directed by Nadia Hallgren that looks at my life and the experiences I had while touring following the release of my memoir.
Those months I spent traveling — meeting and connecting with people in cities across the globe — drove home the idea that what we share in common is deep and real and can’t be messed with. In groups large and small, young and old, unique and united, we came together and shared stories, filling those spaces with our joys, worries, and dreams. We processed the past and imagined a better future. In talking about the idea of ‘becoming,’ many of us dared to say our hopes out loud.
I treasure the memories and that sense of connection now more than ever, as we struggle together to weather this pandemic, as we care for our loved ones, tend to our communities, and try to keep up with work and school while coping with huge amounts of loss, confusion, and uncertainty.
It’s hard these days to feel grounded or hopeful, but I hope that like me, you’ll find joy and a bit of respite in what Nadia has made. Because she’s a rare talent, someone whose intelligence and compassion for others comes through in every frame she shoots. Most importantly, she understands the meaning of community, the power of community, and her work is magically able to depict it.
As many of you know, I’m a hugger. My whole life, I’ve seen it as the most natural and equalizing gesture one human can make toward another — the easiest way of saying, “I’m here for you.” And this is one of the toughest parts of our new reality: Things that once felt simple — going to see a friend, sitting with someone who is hurting, embracing someone new — are now not simple at all.
But I’m here for you. And I know you are here for one another. Even as we can no longer safely gather or feed off the energy of groups, even as many of us are living with grief, loneliness, and fear, we need to stay open and able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Empathy is our lifeline here. It’s what will get us to the other side. Let’s use it to redirect our attention toward what matters most, reconsider our priorities, and find ways to better remake the world in the image of our hopes.
Even in hard times, maybe especially in hard times, our stories help cement our values and strengthen our connections. Sharing them shows us the way forward. I love and miss you all.