If their first film from is any indication, more fantastic movies and shows are on the way from former President Barack and Michelle Obama’s new production company.
The Obamas launched Higher Ground Productions last spring in partnership with Netflix, promising a company that would “harness the power of storytelling” and touch on ”issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more.”
“American Factory,” the first title from Higher Ground, is streaming now. It manages to make good on the Obamas’ pledge, which is a promising sign for what’s to come.
The documentary, which won a directing award earlier this year at Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of how a Chinese billionaire opens a glass factory in a former General Motors plant in Dayton, and hires both American and Chinese people to work there. The film looks at how their cultures clash (with the Chinese workers getting lessons in how Americans are overconfident and need to be praised), how the workers are taken advantage of by management (they’re convinced not to join a union for the security of their jobs) and how automation could take many of their jobs.
Through the emotional stories of some of the workers, and even the billionaire chairman himself, the film winds up being funny, shocking, upsetting and eye-opening. The film works well without a central narrator, allowing the people themselves to tell their stories. There’s also plenty of How did they get that?! insider footage, courtesy of Dayton-based co-filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar.
At almost two hours, the documentary doesn’t drag. Instead, it sets an impressive precedent for the Obamas’ forthcoming projects.
What else does Higher Ground have in the works? Here’s what’s planned so far:
A new drama series about the fashion world: ”Bloom” will show the struggles faced by women of color in post-World War II New York. It’s written and produced by Academy Award winner Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise”).
A biopic about Frederick Douglas: Higher Ground plans to adapt the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” into a movie about the abolitionist and statesman who was born into slavery.
An anthology series about unreported deaths: ”Overlooked” will be a scripted show adapted from The New York Times’ column of the same name that looks to correct the issue of obituaries primarily being written about white men.
A traveling kids’ food show: ”Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” is a half-hour preschool series that will tell the story of food from creators Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”) and Erika Thormahlen.
A Michael Lewis non-fiction series: The show will be based on “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” the book by the best-selling “Moneyball” and “The Big Short” writer about everyday heroes safeguarding the nation.
A documentary about camp for disabled teenagers: ”Crip Camp” will tell the story about how a ramshackle summer camp down the road from Woodstock transformed young lives in the early ’70s.
Read more at usatoday.com.