‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ This is certainly true of former First Lady Michelle Obama. For those seeking a reminder of life before the Trump administration, look no further. ‘Becoming’ on Netflix follows Obama’s autobiography of the same name, which in March 2019 sold over ten million copies.
But for those expecting this authorised work to be a job application for the 2020 Vice-Presidential nomination, you’re in for a disappointment. The final cut comes across as a purposeful end to a former life. Obama herself declares the pre-presidential years as her most formative and confesses in seminars with young women that she is still working out a path ahead.
The documentary is not a detailed account of the inner politics of her husband’s administration. In fact, the 44th president (appropriately) appears only twice in the ninety minute show. This plays into the programme’s wider message, that Michelle is not defined by her husband and is an international figure in her own right.
Although never at ease with the publicity and isolation that comes with being First Lady, the programme presents Obama interacting with an audience on her own terms. Though shuttled from venue to venue by secret service agents, Obama remains grounded, humble and offers a generosity of spirit not seen in the Oval Office since January 2017.
Reflecting on her husband’s run for the presidency in February 2007, Obama commented on how her every move was watched by pundits. And whilst she tells a graceful story of adaptation and fortitude, she remains somewhat restrained. Though no longer a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Obama continues to guard against critics. Her decision not to mention Clinton, her 2016 Democratic convention speech and only briefly discuss ‘45’ is evidence of that.
The partnership between Obama and Netflix is also confusing. Neither Obamas require support for name recognition. Unusually, it seems Netflix is the junior partner here. The programme’s content does not go beyond the confines of Obama’s autobiography. It’s likely the release of this surprise documentary is timed to boost sales in the run up to the presidential election in November.
An uplifting experience, but not as intimate as many may have expected.