A host of new projects sees powerful politicians leveraging entertainment to drive deeper conversations and break barriers.
The Obamas are making a big push in this space with their Higher Ground Productions company. In June 2019, the former president and first lady announced that they would be producing podcasts as part of a new multiyear agreement with Spotify. “We’ve always believed in the value of entertaining, thought-provoking conversation,” says Barack Obama. “It helps us build connections with each other and open ourselves up to new ideas. We’re excited about Higher Ground Audio because podcasts offer an extraordinary opportunity to foster productive dialogue, make people smile and make people think, and, hopefully, bring us all a little closer together.”
This follows a slate of new shows revealed in April 2019 as part of their production contract with Netflix. The lineup of three films and four series ranges from American Factory, a documentary about industrial development in Ohio, to Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents, a family-friendly series about food from around the world, to Bloom, a drama set in mid-century New York City. “We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling,” President Obama says. “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.”
The Obamas aren’t the only former White House inhabitants to make a move into the entertainment industry. In May 2019, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton revealed their plans to form a production company and their intentions to build a pipeline of shows and movies focusing on stories about women. The former secretary of state and first lady initially dipped a toe into the entertainment industry in August 2018, when she signed on as executive producer to adapt the critically acclaimed book The Woman’s Hour for television with Steven Spielberg.
Across the pond, the British royal family is also turning to entertainment as a platform to drive deeper conversations. In April 2019, Prince Harry and Oprah announced a television show tackling mental health, which the Duke of Sussex co-created and produced with Oprah. The show is a multipart documentary series which will air on Apple TV in 2020. “I truly believe that good mental health—mental fitness—is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self,” Prince Harry shared on Instagram. “It is a huge responsibility to get this right as we bring you the facts, the science and the awareness of a subject that is so relevant during these times. Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive—sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better.”
Barack Obama also pays tribute to the power of sharing stories. “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,” he says. “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.”