Other Group

Higher Ground Productions

Website:

highergroundmedia.com/

Type:

Multimedia Production Company

Formation:

2018

Founders:

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

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Higher Ground Productions, sometimes referred to as Higher Ground or Higher Ground Media, is a multimedia production company founded in 2018 by former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as a result of the former first couple signing a deal with Netflix to provide exclusive content for the streaming platform. Since its founding, the company has produced, funded, or acquired a variety of television and film content ranging from fictional stories and children’s content to biopics and documentaries. While some of the companies’ projects feature the Obamas, others are promoted by the company because they are based on stories that the Obamas find “inspiring.” One documentary from the company, American Factory, won an Academy Award in 2020. In 2023 the group hired former Showtime executive vice president Vinnie Malhorta to lead the company. 1 2 3

Background

Higher Ground Productions was founded in 2018 by former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and is wholly owned by the former first couple. The company was founded when the Obamas signed a multiyear deal with Netflix to form their own production company and provide exclusive content for Netflix’s streaming platforms. At the time of the deal Netflix had over 125 million subscribers worldwide and, while the amount paid to the Obamas remained undisclosed, it was noted that the couple signed a joint book deal with Penguin Random House that paid them $65 million for their respective memoirs. 4

Reports of the deal in 2018 stated that the content provided would be varied and that Obama did not intend to use any content produced by the company to “to directly respond to President Trump or conservative critics,” but instead to produce “shows that highlight inspirational stories.” While it was expected that the Obamas might participate in some programming produced by the company, the company also featured individuals and stories such as those highlighted by the former president at his State of the Union addresses. 5

Productions

Since Higher Ground Productions was founded in 2018, the company has produced a variety of TV and feature-length films for Netflix and also produced podcasts, signing an exclusive deal with Spotify to host Michelle Obama’s podcast. 6

The Netflix content produced by the company has included psychological thrillers, dramatic comedies, biopics, and documentaries. In 2020, American Factory, a documentary produced by the company that follows a Chinese company opening a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant in Ohio, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 7 8

The 2023 slate of films produced by the company included Leave the World Behind, a thriller; Rustin, a biopic about gay Civil Rights Era labor-union activist Bayard Rustin; and American Symphony, a documentary tracking the relationship between the musician Jon Batiste and his partner, Suleika Jaouad. 9

Former President Barack Obama stated in a December 2023 interview that he and Michelle planned to “continue spending just 10 to 15 percent of their time nurturing Higher Ground, especially as the 2024 election approaches and they are called to the campaign trail.” He also said, “Michelle and I do not aspire to be full-time Hollywood moguls,” but that the couple is known to give notes on scripts. 10

References

  1. Neuman, Scott. “Obamas Sign Deal With Netflix, Form ‘Higher Ground Productions.’” NPR WAMU 88.5. May 22, 2018. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/22/613246456/obamas-sign-content-deal-with-netlfix-form-higher-ground-productions
  2. Chan, J. Clara. “The Obamas’ Higher Ground Taps Vinnie Malhotra to Lead Film, TV Division.” The Hollywood Reporter. April 25, 2023. Accessed June 16, 2024.  https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/obama-higher-ground-vinnie-malhotra-1235402179/
  3. “American Factory.” IMDB. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9351980/?ref_=sr_t_6
  4. Neuman, Scott. “Obamas Sign Deal With Netflix, Form ‘Higher Ground Productions.’” NPR WAMU 88.5. May 22, 2018. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/22/613246456/obamas-sign-content-deal-with-netlfix-form-higher-ground-productions
  5. Neuman, Scott. “Obamas Sign Deal With Netflix, Form ‘Higher Ground Productions.’” NPR WAMU 88.5. May 22, 2018. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/22/613246456/obamas-sign-content-deal-with-netlfix-form-higher-ground-productions
  6. “Home.” Higher Ground Media. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://highergroundmedia.com/
  7. “American Symphony.” IMDB. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt28865980/?ref_=sr_t_5
  8. “Higher Ground Productions.” IMDB. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.imdb.com/search/title/?companies=co0720404
  9. Sperling, Nicole. “Obamas’ Vision for Hollywood Company: ‘This Isn’t Like Masterpiece Theatre.’” The New York Times. December 6, 2023. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/06/business/media/barack-michelle-obama-higher-ground-netflix.html
  10. Sperling, Nicole. “Obamas’ Vision for Hollywood Company: ‘This Isn’t Like Masterpiece Theatre.’” The New York Times. December 6, 2023. Accessed June 16, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/06/business/media/barack-michelle-obama-higher-ground-netflix.html
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