Nearly a year after its release, Obama’s post-White House documentary is still as topical as ever
Based on Michelle Obama’s memoir of the same name, Becoming is a 2020 Netflix documentary which follows Obama’s life post-White House. In the film, she discusses her life, hopes for her country, and countless connections with others she’s fostered over the years.
First of all: wow. I definitely recommend this film! I was utterly flabbergasted and at a loss for words following its conclusion. This inspirational film is exactly the push and the motivation needed to continue the good fight with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Black History Month may be over, but we must continue shedding light and battling injustice as much as we can: Black History Month is every month.
But I digress.
This film is a rare and up-close look at the former first lady’s life. It’s a candid, intimate 90 minutes, capturing all of the moments of her life delicately chosen to share with the public, including star-studded guest appearances from Oprah Winfrey, comedian and television show host Conan O’Brien, late-night host Stephen Colbert, television personality Gayle King, and many more.
The opening of this documentary takes place in 2019. Obama and her crew are in Chicago, the first stop of a 34-city book tour (including visits to Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto) for her 2018 memoir Becoming. We can already tell just what type of person the former first lady of the United States (FLOTUS) is: down-to-earth and loving. She treats her staff with respect, asking about their days and referring to them as her family. She encourages Melissa Winter, her chief of staff, to express her emotions, telling her: “you don’t have to keep it together, you don’t have to. You can go ahead and cry your eyes out.” For her, and those who are along the journey, it’s overwhelming.
However, as the documentary progresses, we come to the realization that being FLOTUS means that you have to be perfect 100 per cent of the time: you cannot show any vulnerability, because the media can take that out of context and then have a field day with it.
Directed by Nadia Hallgren, the film takes viewers on a stoic journey with Obama as she embarks on her book tour. She intends to use the time to reflect on her eight years in the White House and “to figure out what just happened.” And while it’s hard to believe that someone who has been in the public eye for so long can actually be “unplugged,” Obama’s multi-city conversations are invigorating, offering more personal insights and showing more poignant sides to her signature charm and humour.
The main objective of her tour was to get to know and speak to young people, mostly students from various backgrounds, in order to become more connected to her community. “How I relate to people, it helps me stay connected?,” she explained.
Many of the young Black women she encountered asked her how she overcame the sense of isolation that haunts many Black women as they move through the world. She attributes her confidence to her parents, who allowed her to ask questions and made her feel visible.
“I am from the south side of Chicago. That tells you as much about me as you need to know. It was a typical working class community,” she said.
“We can’t afford to wait for the world to be equal to start feeling seen.”
Obama then goes on to state that in order to be seen, we need to stop focusing so much on “stats and [more] on the story.”
“What makes you more than a stat is once you see yourself more than a stat and you truly start thinking about who you are, what do you care about and what brings you joy?”
She hopes that her story urges women to see the power of their own story and to own that.
This amazingly unapologetic and true-to-herself woman imparts her countless racist encounters growing up as a proud Black woman and as the first Black first lady of the United States. She says that even though the Obama’s “presence in the White House has been celebrated by millions, others reacted with fear.
“Many were overlooking the racism and tribalism that was tearing our nation apart,” she said. “Barack and I lived with an awareness that we ourselves were a provocation [of violence and racism].”
She goes on to mention and show a multitude of Black lives that were lost, but not forgotten — “young people with the robbed possibility of a long and fruitful life such as Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Grey, Eric Garner, Treyvon Martin, Sandra Bland. We must say their names and not let their deaths be in vain,” mentioned Obama.
At one point, Obama explains to a young group of graduating Black students that in order to get anywhere with each other and to have any semblance of progress, we must “be willing to say who we are.” In a saddening tone, she explains: “I am the former first lady of the United States, and also a descendant of slaves. It’s important to keep that truth of who we are right there.”
If there’s one thing that we must keep in mind from Michelle Obama it’s the importance of listening and learning everyone’s story in order to become something of ourselves.
“We should open up a bit more to each other and share our stories, our real stories, because that’s what really breaks down barriers,” she said.
“But, in order to do that, you have to believe that your story has value. You need to be vulnerable. Dare to be vulnerable. We’re at a crossroads where we really have to think, who are we as a nation?”
So, who are you becoming?