If Michelle Obama had her way, almost no one in the general public would know her name. Thrust into the national spotlight by the candidacy and eventual presidency of her husband, Barack Obama, she had to quickly make peace with her role as the First Lady, and the fact that she was now a role model whether she wanted to be or not.
Some women are up to the task, and some are not, and if the new Netflix documentary Becoming makes anything clear, it’s that Obama was — and continues to be — one of the most well-suited women to ever take on the role. The film, a companion piece to her 2018 memoir of the same name, follows her around the country during her stadium tour in 2019 in support of the book.
The film gives a Cliff’s Notes version of the book, showing Obama as she tells her life story to moderators like Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Tracee Ellis Ross, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O’Brien in front of packed crowds in various cities. Viewers get many of the highlights of her life, including her childhood in Chicago, her college years at Harvard, her meeting Barack, her becoming a mother, and, of course, her eight years in the White House.
But the film is also much more than a mere rehashing of the book. Director Nadia Hallgren and her crew trail Obama as she meets with fans at book signings, joins small groups of students at high schools, and chats behind the scenes with her staff, Secret Service detail, and family members. Hallgren even breaks off from Obama a few times to glimpse the lives of some of the high school girls from the small groups.
The portrait that is painted is one of a woman who is an inspiration to many because of her compassion, her willingness to engage with strangers, and her ability to move with the spoken word. There’s good reason that many in the Democratic Party feel that she would make an ideal vice-presidential candidate for presumptive 2020 nominee Joe Biden, even though running for office is anathema to her.
There are a couple of allusions to the current administration, as well as her conflicts with right wing media and Republicans during her time in the White House, but anyone looking for pointed attacks will have to look elsewhere. As she famously said in her 2016 Democratic National Convention speech, “When they go low, we go high,” although even she admits that stance is sometimes difficult to maintain in the face of what she considers to be baseless criticism.
Becoming is a welcome reminder that Michelle Obama continues to be a force for good in a world where that can sometimes feel like a resource in short supply. The film is a veneration of the former First Lady, but there are relatively few who would not consider her worthy of such praise.