Barack and Michelle Obama made their Hollywood debut on Wednesday with a documentary set in industrial Ohio that film reviewers are calling compelling and timely.
“American Factory,” the story of what happened when a Chinese company took over an abandoned General Motors plant, is the first product of a multi-year collaboration between Netflix (NFLX.O) and Higher Ground, the production company formed last year by the former U.S. president and first lady.
“A good story gives you the chance to better understand someone else’s life. It can help you find common ground. And it’s why Michelle and I were drawn to Higher Ground’s first film,” Obama said.
The documentary traces the lives of thousands of workers laid off from their auto jobs in Moraine, Ohio, in the 2008 recession, some of whom were hired six years later by Chinese company Fuyao Glass America to make automotive glass in the same plant.
The Washington Post called “American Factory,” which arrived on Netflix on Wednesday, “a perfect vehicle for (Higher Ground’s) mission to lift up stories from underrepresented groups.”
“We want people to be able to get outside of themselves and experience and understand the lives of somebody else,” Obama told filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar in a promotional video released by Netflix.
Michelle Obama told the filmmakers she was particularly struck by the opening scenes of workers on the factory floor.
“That was my background, that was my father,” she said.
“One of the many things I love about this film… is that you let people tell their own story. “American Factory’ doesn’t come in with a perspective; it’s not an editorial.”
The Los Angeles Times called the documentary “compelling,” and pop culture website Vox.com said it was “a fascinating peek into the challenges of globalization.” It received a 97% approval rate on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Under the Netflix deal, Higher Ground will produce, curate and acquire content for distribution on the streaming service. The value of the deal is not known.
Upcoming programming will include an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight about the slavery abolitionist, a period drama set in the fashion world and a series for pre-schoolers focusing on healthy eating.