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Michelle Obama will be the focus of the upcoming Netflix documentary ‘Becoming’

“Becoming” by former first lady Michelle Obama presents a candid account of her life. Here’s what else she’s been up to since leaving the White House. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post, Photo: Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)
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Barack and Michelle Obama’s producing partnership with Netflix is entering a new phase — in their latest production, they’ve turned the camera on themselves. The streaming service announced Monday that the next film released under the couple’s Higher Ground banner will be “Becoming,” a documentary following Michelle Obama as she traveled the globe on tour for her record-breaking memoir.

“I’m figuring out, what do I want to do? What do I care about?” the former first lady says in a clip from the documentary. “It takes time to process your life and figure out what it all means.”

Streaming May 6, “Becoming” arrives at a defining moment in Obama’s life. A few years removed from the East Wing, the widely admired first lady’s influence remains evident. She’s maintained a foothold in American culture, and the presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden, recently said he would choose her as his running mate “in a heartbeat.” She’s made clear that she does not want to run for office, but Biden’s remark raises the same question Obama asks of herself in the film: How will she choose to wield her power?

In revealing new memoir, Michelle Obama candidly shares her story

The arena book tour for her memoir — which, like the documentary, is titled “Becoming” — launched in November 2018. The tour became the first of its kind for a former first lady, with Obama visiting more than 30 cities. At each stop, she spoke before tens of thousands of people with a rotating cast of celebrity guests who asked her questions; headlines noted that she managed to make each discussion “feel like an intimate conversation.” The memoir itself was also more revealing than one might have expected from Obama, who remained guarded during her husband’s two terms. The book, which Obama used to reveal that she once struggled with fertility issues and to share her outrage over then-candidate Donald Trump’s promotion of the false birther conspiracy theory, sold 2 million copies in its first two weeks, making it the fastest-selling book of 2018.

Anita McBride, former chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush, said Obama was “a reluctant first lady at first” but went on to form lasting connections with the public through her “extraordinary use of media and pop culture and television.” McBride, who directs programming on first ladies at American University, also noted that the transition from public service to private citizenship encourages political figures to take stock of what they’ve accomplished and determine what they hope to carry on.

The Netflix deal is a way for the Obamas to continue elevating “stories of challenge related to the programs and initiatives that were a part of their White House life,” said McBride, who added that the producing partnership is unprecedented among first couples in terms of “the reach and the impact that they want to continue to have.” Obama has continued nonpartisan outreach through the initiative, When We All Vote, which aims to boost turnout. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, she’s advocated for the expansion of mail-in voting alongside When We All Vote co-chairs Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.

This week, Obama lent her voice to a public service announcement providing her fellow D.C. residents with information about coronavirus testing. She and her publisher, Penguin Random House, have also partnered with PBS Kids for a weekly virtual reading Web series.

The documentary “Becoming” is directed by Nadia Hallgren, a cinematographer who accompanied Obama on the tour and, according to a statement, aimed to capture who the former first lady “is in this moment and the way she’s reflecting on the entirety of her life, not just her years in the White House.” This is the third film from Higher Ground Productions, which also produced this year’s Oscar-winning documentary “American Factory.” The Obamas launched the company in spring 2018.

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