Barack and Michelle Obama’s Initial Netflix Slate Includes Nonfiction Series From ‘Big Short’ Author

Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s doc “American Factory” will be first of seven originals from Higher Ground Productions

Last Updated: April 30, 2019 @ 9:09 AM

Netflix unveiled the initial slate from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, which includes a mix of scripted and unscripted, docuseries, documentaries and features.

The slate includes seven originals in total, the first of which will be “American Factory,” directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. The film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires 2,000 blue-collar Americans.

Other projects include a scripted anthology series based on The New York Times’ popular “Overlooked” column, and “Bloom,” a drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City. “Big Short” and “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis is adapting his book, “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” into a nonfiction series.

“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects,” President Barack Obama said. “Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all.”

Higher Ground Productions has a multi-year deal with Netflix. The company is led by Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis, with Qadriyyah “Q” Shamsid-Deen as a creative executive.

Here is a rundown of the projects in development, which will roll out over the next several years:

“AMERICAN FACTORY”

From Participant Media, the film is directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. The film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. The producers are Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, and Julie Parker Benello.

The film was acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary.

“BLOOM”

Described as an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-WWII New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and by people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress. “Bloom” is written and executive produced by¬† Callie Khouri, from an idea developed by Khouri, writer-director Clement Virgo and novelist and producer Juliana Maio. Higher Ground Productions, Khouri, Virgo and Maio will executive produce the series.

“FREDERICK DOUGLASS: PROPHET OF FREEDOM”

Higher Ground is producing a feature film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” for which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History.

“OVERLOOKED”

Adapted from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column “Overlooked,” telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper. The scripted anthology series is developed with producers Liza Chasin of 3dot Productions and Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content.

“LISTEN TO YOUR VEGETABLES & EAT YOUR PARENTS”

“Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” will be a half-hour preschool series from creators Jeremy Konner and Erika Thormahlen. The show will take young children and their families around the globe on an adventure that tells us the story of our food.

“FIFTH RISK”

From Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of “The Big Short” and “Moneyball,” and based on his book, “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” “Fifth Risk,” a nonfiction series, will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.

“CRIP CAMP”

A feature-length documentary film in production that is supported by the Sundance Institute and acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. Just down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers that would transform young lives, and America forever by helping to set in motion the disability rights movement. The film is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham. Producers include Newnham, LeBrecht and Sara Bolder, with executive producer Howard Gertler.