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Review: Shallow documentary 'Becoming' highlights Michelle Obama's personality

Courtesy of Netflix


Just in time for mother’s day, the unscripted look into former First Lady Michelle Obama’s 34 city book tour lands on Netflix. The documentary, directed by Nadia Hallgren, focuses on Obama’s memoir entitled “Becoming,” which is also the title of the film. Unlike the Hulu doc “Hillary” that aired earlier this year, “Becoming” doesn’t ask the tough questions, or feature any shocking revelations about the First Lady or her time at the White House. But it does offer a glimmering portrait of a woman who, politics aside, was and is a global icon. The film does feature some rare insight into how the FLOTUS operates and her daily routines whilst promoting her book, but the film was produced by the Obamas’ own production company, Higher Ground, of which they have a partnership with Netflix. So those looking for hard hitting investigative journalism should steer clear, yet something tells me audiences tuning in already knew that.

The film presents a tailored version of Michelle Obama and how she envisions herself, and even those calculated movements and behind the scenes observations offer a telling glimpse at the pressure and scrutiny often faced by prominent figures in the limelight. Most of the film is spent with Obama and her advisors, as well as secret service agents, and includes a rare, albeit brief, interview with her two daughters. “Becoming” transitions between concert-style footage (she would often sell out arenas across the country), her conversations with minority targeted focus groups, and inner city teenagers of color, with the occasional book signing thrown in. At times, it feels like an extended promotional video but there’s an eloquence to the way Obama speaks to her supporters and, if anything, “Becoming” certainly showcases how and why she became a powerhouse on the campaign trail and ultimately one of the deciding factors in Barack Obama’s electability.

Between her tenure (2008-2016) Michelle Obama made it her duty to interact and encourage the youth of America and her dedication to that mission still continues on today; combating every stereotype she faced while attending Princeton and Harvard (she tells us her white roommate in college moved out in fear of living with a black woman). She even recounts the details of her courtship with Barack, who at the time already had ambitions of fighting income inequality and was worried about Blacks in America.

“Becoming” doesn’t shy away from the criticism Michelle faced from her pundits, most notably Fox News who ragged on her for any minor blemish, including her outfits, shoes, and handshakes. At the time, she decided to not feed into those outlets and followed guidelines laid out by her advisors, essentially following a script. But this doc presents a wholly different and transformed woman: outspoken and not afraid to share her own opinions.

The film takes its time to introduce Obama’s core team, including chief of staff Melissa Winter and stylist Meredith Kopp. In one short segment, we meet longtime bodyguard Allen Taylor who explains the stakes of the job and how you can’t afford to make even the smallest of mistakes. “Becoming” also cuts away to scenes following first generation high school graduates and it can sometimes seem like a filler, though, the overall message doesn’t lose its inspirational spunk.

And it’s that message of hope and perseverance, of which the Obama campaign was built upon, that fuels the outer layers of this mostly tame documentary. The film suggests that she’s still growing as a human being, and that we should never stop looking in the mirror and asking ourselves who we want to be.

Grade: B

BECOMING will begin streaming on Netflix Wednesday May 6th.

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