Higher Ground Productions Announces Next Wave of Obama-Produced Movies and Shows on Netflix

Higher Ground Productions, the production company formed by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, has announced a new line-up of film and TV productions as part of their partnership with Netflix. While the first wave included primarily documentaries like American Factory, Crip Camp, and Becoming, and the new titles include a sci-fi film called Satellite, a YA series called Firekeeper’s Daughter, and a few more features, as well as a docuseries about the National Parks.

The company, founded by Barack and Michelle Obama, is co-run by Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis, along with Ada Chiaghana and Alex Pitz, and has set out to focus on “stories that embody the values the Obamas have championed throughout their lives. The projects selected are a reflection of these values and a commitment to quality storytelling.”

And now, they’ve announced some new titles as part of their deal with Netflix. Those titles include:

  • Exit West is a feature film based on Mohsin Hamid’s critically-acclaimed novel. A love story set against an epic global migration enabled by a supernatural phenomenon, Exit West is the story of two people as they seek a better life together, all the while yearning for a home to which they may never return. The New York Times named the novel one of the 10 Best Books of 2017, it was selected for the Booker Prize longlist, and former U.S. President Barack Obama named it one of the best books he read in 2017. The film stars Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) who will also executive produce via his Left Handed Films banner,  and will be directed by Yann Demange (White Boy Rick) and co-produced with Joe Russo, Anthony Russo and Mike Larocca for the Russos’ AGBO.

  • Satellite is a science fiction feature film written by Ola Shokunbi, and produced by Kiri Hart and Stephen Feder for Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman’s T Street.

  • Tenzing is a feature film based on the true story of Tenzing Norgay, the man who first reached the summit of Everest, the highest mountain in the world, along with Sir Edmund Hillary.  This is the story of an unsung hero and the unique bond he formed with another outsider that enabled them to make history together.  BAFTA nominee Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa), who has spent years on Everest herself, will direct. Tenzing marks her first foray into narrative film. Academy Award nominee and BAFTA winner Luke Davies (Lion) wrote the spec script based on the book “Tenzing: Hero of Everest” by Ed Douglas. Peedom and Davies are producing alongside HGP.  David Michôd (The King) and Norbu Tenzing Norgay will executive produce.

  • The Young Wife is a feature film from writer and director Tayarisha Poe (Selah and the Spades). It follows Celestina, 29, on the day of her first wedding. Or not a wedding, exactly, but a party. A party where there’s movement, and Celestina is out of sync. The guests flood in; a storm approaches.

  • Firekeeper’s Daughter is a series based on the debut novel by Angeline Boulley, set to publish in Spring 2021 by Henry Holt & Co. The novel is a YA thriller that follows an 18-year-old Native girl as she reluctantly goes undercover in a police investigation on her Ojibwe reservation. Mickey Fisher (Reverie, Extant) will serve as showrunner, and will co-write with Wenonah Wilms (Horsehead Girls) who will also serve as an executive producer.  Like author Boulley, Wilms is from the Ojibwe tribe (Sault Ste. Marie and Red Cliff bands, respectively) and will bring her lived experiences to this series.

  • Great National Parks is a natural history docuseries that will explore some of the most wondrous national parks and wild spaces on Earth. Highlighting extraordinary species and habitats, the series will illustrate the importance of protecting the world’s remaining wildernesses and making them accessible for all. Higher Ground is producing the series with Wild Space Productions and wildlife filmmaker James Honeyborne of the award-winning series Blue Planet II.

  • Ada Twist, Scientist is an animated preschool series based on the best-selling book series by author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts featuring a young Black scientist who will explore helping people through scientific discovery, collaboration and friendship. Higher Ground is producing alongside executive producers Chris Nee and Kerri Grant.

  • The G Word with Adam Conover is a hybrid comedy series hosted by Adam Conover (Adam Ruins Everything) based on The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy by bestselling author Michael Lewis (The Big Short, Moneyball). Higher Ground is producing alongside  Adam Conover, Jon Cohen, and Jon Wolf of Fair Point.

Again: what I find most interesting here is that while the first wave of Higher Ground productions was focused on documentary work, this new lineup includes plenty of non-documentary features and shows. It’s a sign that Higher Ground wants to create all sorts of entertainment going forward. These projects are currently in different stages of development, and will be released over the next several years.

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