Movie Review: Becoming

“When they go low, we go high.”

Former US First Lady Michelle Obama didn’t coin that phrase but she certainly popularised it when she used it in her speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention. Four years later, Mrs. Obama still lives by that credo even as her detractors continue to pillory everything about her from her smile and clothing to, shamefully, the colour of her skin. It seems to be paying off, though, as she remains an immensely popular and highly-respected figure everywhere in the world outside of the Fox News orbit. Her 2018 memoir, Becoming, became the best-selling book published in the US that year, breaking the record in just 15 days. She immediately followed that up with a 34-city book tour where she packed halls and arenas to talk about growing up on Chicago’s South Side, meeting her husband, becoming the FLOTUS, inspiring young people to discover their own voice and, perhaps most importantly, remaining grounded throughout and ensuring her daughters do too. Award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer Nadia Hallgren (SHE’S THE TICKET) followed her on the tour, interviewing Obama, her family and her handlers, and capturing a few intimate, behind-the-scenes moments with her fans both young and old.

BECOMING is the third film by the Obamas’ aptly-named Higher Ground Productions. Their first production, AMERICAN FACTORY, took home an Oscar earlier this year for Best Documentary Feature. Cynics will call this film a 90-minute infomercial for Mrs. Obama’s potential run for political office. While Hallgren certainly softballs her portrait of the former First Lady here, Mrs. Obama has said on multiple occasions, and she also does in the film, that she and her husband are quite happy to forge a new path for themselves that doesn’t include another stint in the White House. Watching and listening to her here though, it’s easy to see how the world could use someone with her heart, intelligence, leadership, grace and ability to inspire others with hope right about now. Many Democratic Party supporters have suggested that if Joe Biden should win the November election, he should appoint President Obama to the Supreme Court as a successor to 87-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mrs. Obama would be an equally good, if not better, option.

As comforting — perhaps even wistful — as this film is, and Obama fans will most certainly be tearing up more than once as they watch it, BECOMING doesn’t reveal too many things about Mrs. Obama that we didn’t already know (assuming one hasn’t read the book). The closest she gets to receiving a tough question comes when a Native American student asks her for advice on how to deal with classmates who wear MAGA hats. In true Obama style she tells the teen to “Be in school. Get your frickin’ education.” and “Let [your life] speak for itself.”

When they go low, you go high.

BECOMING is streaming now on Netflix.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, May 22nd, 8:30 am HK time!

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