Wow, Barack and Michelle Obama have become film producers! They’re going to make seven movies and documentaries for Netflix! The projects have been selected for relevance “to our daily lives”! That’s great news! Is…isn’t it?
Well, now, I’m not sure. I understand that the reaction I’m supposed to have to this news is: fantastic, the Obamas have returned to smite our enemies through the power of art, bringing powerful storytelling to bear on our troubled times and changing the world again by shining a light on vital issues of the day. Aren’t they cool? Aren’t they awesome? Aren’t they the saviours of us all?
Yet my actual reaction is more along the lines of: oh. You trying to sell us some more bullshit, huh?
Because a lot of the hype around everything the Obamas do is based on the premise that they have somehow changed the world for the better. But even passing over inconvenient details like Barack’s penchant for lethal drone strikes while he was in office since 2016 it’s become pretty clear to a lot of us that any progress made in those years was illusory. The world went right back to its bad old self: in fact, let’s face it, it got worse.
It didn’t get worse for the Obamas, of course. They just pranced out of the White House and started raking in big bucks for giving speeches and spreading the message of hope that had been so incredibly useful to us all. And now they’re getting even richer from this moviemaking deal. Good for them. But I don’t see how it’s good news for any of us.
One hates to judge any artistic endeavour before seeing it – assuming that the Obamas’ production slate IS an artistic endeavour and not just a branding exercise. But my suspicion is that the films they put out will be a lot like the speeches they make: lofty ideals and high-minded rhetoric masking the absence of any kind of helpful substance. And first indications – based on the company’s first production, American Factory – are that that seems to be what we’re likely to get. It’s a documentary about factory workers and foreign ownership, as earnest as it is dull, and as dull as it is worthy.
Many will lap it up and laud the attention to Authentic Issues, despite the occasional quibble over whether any genuine insight or – god forbid – entertainment is being offered. For the kind of people who listen to an Obama speech and sigh with nostalgia for the days when they could convince themselves all was well, this will be fine. For those of us who are weary of empty symbols, it just comes across as more of the same nonsense that got us where we are now.
That’s why I ask, is more Obama content really what we need right now? Is it such a glorious development that these avatars of hope are stretching their tentacles into showbusiness? Or would it be preferable if the entertainment game were left to the experts, and the ex-presidents stick to what they do best: being slapped on the back by wealthy friends for all the good work they did maintaining the status quo?