Director Nadria Hall gives viewers an intimate look at one of the most prolific and admired women of this century, Mrs. Michelle Obama, in Netflix’s Becoming. Following Mrs. Obama on her 34 cities promotional tour for her 2018 same-titled memoir, this was one of my most anticipated documentaries in recent memory. Politics aside, I’ve always held Mr. & Mrs. Obama in high regard, primarily due to the way the couple carries themselves.
When the Becoming tour hit D.C. back in 2018, I was unable to attend the event, due to it naturally selling out. As my wife and I viewed Becoming, one thing that struck a chord for us both. Behind the security details, the glitz and glamour, Michelle Obama is still a human being.
Similar to her spouse, Michelle Obama has an eloquence in her speaking voice that draws listeners into her stories. During the book tour for “Becoming,” Michelle gave audiences in venues with capacities of over 20,000 an intimate conversation.
Becoming begins with stories from Michelle’s humble beginnings on the South Side of Chicago as she reminisces of a friendly sibling rivalry with her brother and admiration for her father. There are also stories of white flight in Becoming Michelle’s childhood. Recanting her experiences of having predominantly black classmates due to many white families leaving Chicago communities as black families moved in. Michelle transitions these stories and events to her experiences at Princeton.
I want to point out, that while watching Becoming, there are scenes that showcase the racially motivated attacks and criticism the Obama family received. However, there is never a moment where Michelle plays victim to commentators who chose to weaponize her blackness against her. Instead, she reminds us of one of her signature catchphrase’s “When they go low, we go high” in 2016, which has always been her mindset.
Director Nadria Hall makes a wise choice not to feature former President Barrack Obama overly. There is a brief appearance by Michelle’s spouse, giving her flowers on stage during the D.C/ tour stop. Outside of that, the most we get are archive photos and a few brief but candid humorous stories about their romance and love story.
One of the most telling stories of Becoming is when Michelle reflects on arriving in the White House and informing the staff that Sasha and Malia will make their own beds and that staff will no longer wear traditional butler attire. While I won’t go into spoiler territory with Michelle’s reasoning, all I could do was smile at her decision. I also want to give credit for the inspirational soundtrack featuring tunes from the likes of Kirk Franklin, Frank Ocean, and Kamasi Washington.
I must say, one of the most emotional moments of the documentary for me was hearing Michelle speaking on non-voters during the mid-term elections, as well as the 2016 Presidential election. Respectfully, there’s never a moment in the documentary where Michelle attacks the Republican Party. Instead, it should serve more as an eye-opening truth to those who complain about the current state of the U.S., yet don’t take the time to cast a ballot.
My one small criticism of Becoming is the run time. Clocking in at a brief eighty-six minutes, and as I dried my eyes during the film’s closing moments, I wanted more. Throughout the documentary, we see scenes of Michelle speaking with small groups of young girls and signing books for adoring fans, both male and female of all ages, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds. A few of the scenes feature high school students, some of whom graduated in 2019 and would be the first in their family to go to college. I would love to see follow up stories on them, to see what they’ve become.
I highly recommend viewing Becoming with your family no matter what your thoughts on the Obama presidency or political affiliation may be. More than a vanity piece, the documentary solidifies one of my favorite Michelle Obama quotes on what becoming means. “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”
Final Grade A+