President Barack Obama and his wife First Lady Michelle Obama served in the White House from 2009 until 2013. After leaving the White House the Obama’s launched the movie and television production company Higher Ground in association with Netflix.
The Obamas do not own Netflix and are not on the Netflix board of directors. They have close relationships with several senior Netflix executives. The Obama’s production company has produced multiple TV series, documentaries, and movies that have been available for streaming on Netflix.
Here is a guide to the relationship between Barack and Michelle Obama and Netflix:
Connections Between The Obamas And Netflix
Reed Hastings, the co-founder, co-CEO and chairman of Netflix is a friend of Barack and Michelle Obama. He attended at least one state dinner at the White House when Obama was president.
Ted Sarandos, the co-CEO and chief content officer of Netflix, is married to Nicole A. Avant. Avant served as the United States Ambassador to the Bahamas from 2009 to 2011 during the presidency of Barack Obama.
Barack Obama was the first guest on the debut episode of David Letterman’s Netflix show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” on January 12 2018.
The Netflix Production Deal
The New York Times first reported on March 8 2018 that Barack and Michelle Obama were in talks with Netflix for a production deal.
On May 21 2018, Netflix announced that they had formed a “storytelling partnership” with Barack and Michelle Obama. The Obamas launched a new production company called Higher Ground Productions to produce programs to be streamed on Netflix.
“The Obamas will produce a diverse mix of content, including the potential for scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features,” Netflix said in a press release announcing the collaboration.
Barack Obama said in the announcement, “One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” and added, “That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix – we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”
Michelle Obama also noted, “Netflix’s unparalleled service is a natural fit for the kinds of stories we want to share, and we look forward to starting this exciting new partnership.”
Speaking about the deal at an event at the Paley Center for Media in New York, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said, “This is not The Obama Network. There’s no political slant to the programming.”
Trump, Conservatives Attacked Obama-Netflix Deal
After the deal was announced, then-President Donald Trump tweeted “Obama Netflix,” which later became a trending topic on the social media network as users mocked Trump. Trump also in 2019 invoked the Obama’s deal with Netflix while defending himself against accusations that he was using the presidency to promote his own businesses. But what Trump did not note is that the Obama-Netflix collaboration was announced after Obama had left the presidency.
Also in 2019 Trump called for Congress to investigate the Netflix arrangement, inaccurately comparing it to investigations into corruption in his administration.
Conservatives online also called for a boycott of Netflix due to the arrangement with the Obamas. They used the hashtag #BoycottNetflix and argued that it proved the streaming service had a “liberal agenda.” The boycott was unsuccessful in persuading Netflix to abandon its agreement with the Obamas and a later survey found that only 5% of the people who canceled their Netflix subscriptions did so because of political issues.
How Much Netflix Paid The Obamas
At the time that the Obama’s deal with Netflix was announced, Variety described Netflix’s deal with the Obama’s as “the biggest” in a series of production deals the streaming service had announced, including deals with producers Shonda Rhimes (for more than $100 million) and Ryan Murphy (for more than $300 million). Variety said it was “unknown” precisely what the Obamas had been paid by Netflix for their production deal.
Obama And Netflix’s Board Of Directors
Neither Barack or Michelle Obama are on the Netflix board of directors.
But there is an Obama connection to Netflix’s board. Susan Rice, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Obama (from 2009 to 2013) and as Obama’s National Security Advisor (from 2013 to 2017), served on Netflix’s board from 2018 until she left the board in December 2020 to work for the administration of President Joe Biden.
Netflix Customer Reaction To The Deal With The Obamas
The Obama’s Programs On Netflix
The Obama’s production company Higher Ground has repeatedly announced multiple series and movies that they have and will produce for Netflix. Here are some of the most notable programs from the company that have been available on the streaming platform:
American Factory was a 2019 documentary about the Chinese company Fuyao’s factory in Moraine, Ohio. Fuyao acquired the Moraine Assembly plant, which previously was used to produce products for General Motors. At the 2020 Academy Awards the movie won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar.
Becoming was a documentary released on May 6 2020 following Michelle Obama on a 34-city book tour for her autobiography, “Becoming.” In a press release, Netflix said, “The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.”
Crip Camp was a 2020 documentary about Camp Jened, a summer camp for the disabled. Starting in 1971, the film follows the lives of campers who become disability rights activists. At the 2021 Academy Awards it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature, but did not win the Oscar.
Our Great National Parks
Barack Obama hosted and narrated “Our Great National Parks” for Netflix, taking viewers on a tour of national parks from around the world. Locations included in the series were places like Monterey Bay, California, Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park and Chilean Patagonia. The show was the first live action documentary from Higher Ground Productions.
The G Word With Adam Conover
The Obamas are the producers of “The G Word with Adam Conover” on Netflix. Host Adam Conover said that after Higher Ground Productions optioned Michael Lewis’ book “The Fifth Risk,” the Obama’s approached him about hosting a television show based on it to explore the U.S. government. Conover said that while producing the show, Barack Obama called him twice to go over scripts for the program and offered some suggestions, some of which were taken and some which were thrown out.
Obama also appeared as a guest on “The G Word,” and was interviewed by Conover.
Ada Twist, Scientist
Higher Ground produced the animated series “Ada Twist, Scientist,” adapting the series of children’s books featuring a young Black girl doing science adventures.