Michelle Obama on the First Family’s Hollywood Pivot: “You’ve Got to Meet People Where They Are”


At the 2024 CAA Amplify summit, an event known for bringing together influential figures in media and entertainment, former First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a compelling speech alongside actress Regina King. The summit, held at the Ojai Valley Inn, included other notable speakers such as Padma Lakshmi and Ricky Martin. However, Michelle Obama’s insights on her post-White House life and her production company, Higher Ground, were the highlight of the event.

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama

Higher Ground’s Mission and Vision

From the White House to Hollywood

Michelle Obama discussed her transition from First Lady to media mogul, emphasizing the importance of storytelling in shaping public consciousness. Higher Ground, the production company founded by Michelle and Barack Obama, aims to create content that resonates with a wide audience and drives social change. “What’s the format that people come together and learn? It’s movies, it’s short films, it’s stories,” Obama stated. She highlighted the significance of meeting people where they are, which in today’s society often means engaging with Hollywood and mainstream media.

Diverse Slate of Productions

Higher Ground’s recent releases include a variety of genres, from the Jon Batiste documentary “American Symphony” to the biopic “Rustin” and the mystery thriller “Leave the World Behind.” This diverse portfolio reflects a strategic effort to appeal to different audiences and tell a wide range of stories. While the company initially focused on serious documentaries like “American Factory” and “Crip Camp,” it has since expanded to include more light-hearted and popular content, aligning with Michelle Obama’s broader tastes.

The Role of Media in Social Change

Engaging with a Broader Audience

During the discussion, Regina King and Michelle Obama explored how media can be a powerful tool for social change. Obama emphasized that by creating relatable and impactful content, Higher Ground aims to influence public discourse and inspire action. This approach is evident in their choice of projects, which aim to highlight underrepresented voices and important social issues.

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Impact of Personal Stories

Obama’s speech resonated with many attendees, particularly when she reflected on her journey and how it has shaped her approach to media and storytelling. With her daughter Malia in the audience, and Sasha celebrating her 23rd birthday nearby, Obama projected a sense of authenticity and relatability. She acknowledged that her time in the White House was just one chapter of her life and expressed her commitment to continuing to make a difference through her work in media.

The 2024 CAA Amplify Summit

Opening Remarks by Maha Dakhil

The summit began with a powerful address by CAA motion picture agent Maha Dakhil, who set the tone for the event by acknowledging the current socio-political climate. “Welcome to the impossible moment we find ourselves in,” Dakhil said, highlighting the challenges faced by diverse communities and the importance of unity and courageous dialogue. Her call to action urged attendees to embrace bravery and empathy in their efforts to create positive change.

Discussions on Democracy and Social Justice

Another key session at the summit featured ACLU executive director Anthony Romero and National Women’s Law Center president Fatima Goss Graves, moderated by Christy Haubegger. The discussion centered on the state of democracy in 2024 and the critical role of the arts and media in advocating for justice. Goss Graves and Romero shared their insights on the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions and the ongoing fight for reproductive rights, emphasizing the need for continued activism and storytelling.

Higher Ground’s Future Projects

Expanding the Horizon

Looking ahead, Higher Ground plans to continue its mission of producing content that sparks conversation and drives social impact. Michelle Obama expressed her enthusiasm for exploring new genres and formats, including unscripted series and other innovative storytelling methods. This commitment to diversity and experimentation ensures that Higher Ground will remain at the forefront of media that not only entertains but also educates and inspires.

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Collaborations and Partnerships

Higher Ground’s success is also attributed to its strategic partnerships with other creators and organizations. By collaborating with talented individuals and leveraging their unique perspectives, the company aims to amplify its impact and reach a broader audience. This collaborative approach is key to Higher Ground’s vision of creating a more inclusive and empathetic media landscape.