Michelle Obama: Life After the White House

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Michelle Obama: Life After the White House Movie Poster Image
Docu offers little new, but the subject still inspires.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 53 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Family should be central in a person's life and transmit good values from one generation to the next. Film conveys the Obamas' ethos of hard work, determination, ambition, decency, hope over fear, helping the disadvantaged, working toward equality for all, treating others and oneself with respect, valuing a good education. Your station in life shouldn't be limited by your circumstances. Little girls should be allowed to have their own powerful voices, not shut down for being "bossy." If "most of life is falling," then the "real challenge" is learning "how to pick yourself back up." Barack Obama gives a speech where he talks about how we're all connected and have a "mutual obligation" to one another, through our families, our communities, our congregations, even our government.

Positive Role Models

Michelle Obama is portrayed as a person raised with high standards and expectations despite modest means. She says she always did her best in school so as not to let her parents down, she preaches the empowerment that comes with good education. She says she pursued that even though some people told her she wouldn't make it to an elite university, due to her social class or skin color. Her mother treated her and her brother with respect, even as young kids, allowing them to have a voice. Michelle passed on those values, brought her mother to the White House to help raise her own daughters. Though she's described as "civic minded," she's also said to have hated politics, so remaking herself to fulfill expectations as first lady was a "sacrifice," but one she was willing to make because Barack was so singular a person. She describes Barack as a person of "character, conviction, decency, and grace," and both Obamas embody integrity.

Violence
Sex

The Obamas hug and kiss. We see a plaque on a Chicago street commemorating where they first kissed while eating ice cream on a date, and Barack Obama said the kiss "tasted like chocolate." There's some description of the Obamas' courtship, some of the highs and lows of married life, their experience with marriage counseling, miscarriage, and IVF treatments described in Michelle Obama's autobiography. At a public event, Michelle Obama jokes the "Black kids" at Princeton weren't interested in drinking beer because they just wanted to dance and "maybe do a little somethin' somethin'."

Language
Consumerism

Princeton, Harvard, Essex, Columbia, Occidental, Netflix, Michelle Obama's book Becoming, Harper's Bazaar, Oprah Winfrey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the DNC, J. Crew, Versace, Obama Foundation Summit.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Michelle Obama recounts how the students at Princeton drank a lot of beer and had keg parties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Michelle Obama: Life After the White House reviews much of the same background information about its inspirational subject that many will have seen and heard before. The documentary pulls from archive footage, passages from the former first lady's autobiography, and interviews with commentators to examine her life story and career highlights. The film makes clear why Michelle Obama continues to be an inspiration and a role model to so many, with clips from speeches she's given talking about her childhood and the hard work and determination that got her where she is today. Details of her relationship with Barack Obama are discussed, with description of their courtship, including their first kiss, and some of the highs and lows of married life, including marriage counseling, a miscarriage, and IVF treatments to conceive their two daughters. The film conveys the Obamas' integrity and their shared ethos of hope over fear, helping the disadvantaged, working toward equality for all, treating others and oneself with respect, and valuing a good education. In an interview, Obama recounts how she found the students at Princeton drank a lot of beer and had keg parties but the "Black kids" just wanted to dance and "maybe do a little somethin' somethin'."

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What's the story?

Michelle Obama rose from a humble background growing up on the South Side of Chicago to become the first lady of the United States. MICHELLE OBAMA: LIFE AFTER THE WHITE HOUSE uses first-hand commentary from onlookers, archive footage of speeches and interviews, and passages from her autobiography, Becoming, to tell her story. We hear Obama talk about her own family background and how her parents instilled in her the values of family, hard work, a good education, and self-love. She went to Ivy League universities and gave up a lucrative law career to find more meaningful work helping people. When her husband decided to run for president, she underwent a makeover to smooth out her public image. The Obamas' passage through the White House is remembered as scandal-free, ambitious, and beneficial for the country. They raised their daughters in the public eye but gave them a sense of normalcy and the same family values. Obama was taught to lead by example, and the documentary aims to illustrate that this is what she did as first lady.

Is it any good?

There's value in this documentary because of its inspirational subject, who continues to generate significant public interest, but it offers little new to the canon of information about the Obamas. Michelle Obama: Life After the White House covers the by-now-familiar ground of the former first lady's life story and career. Yet despite the title, there's very little in the way of new material or insight into the Obamas' lives post-presidency beyond mention of her autobiography, Becoming, and the Obamas' documentary production deal with Netflix. In fact, we're 47 minutes in to the 53-minute documentary before the Obamas actually leave the White House.

If you can watch only one Michelle Obama documentary, make it Netflix's Becoming, which offers new behind-the-scenes and first-hand footage and commentary. Life After the White House, by contrast, relies on information from the autobiography, archive footage, and lengthy commentary from two sources -- a "journalist" and a "professor of government" at the University of Essex -- whose expertise or connection to the Obamas isn't clear. Nonetheless, Michelle Obama is always a fascinating and inspiring subject and a role model to millions, making this and pretty much any documentary about her intrinsically worthwhile.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the legacy of Michelle Obama, as described in Michelle Obama: Life After the White House. What is she doing now, and how will her past inform her future?

  • How did the Obamas ensure that their daughters would feel a sense of normalcy even while living in the White House? Can you imagine being the son or daughter of the president? What would it be like?

  • How do Michelle and Barack Obama demonstrate integrity? Why is this an important character strength?

  • What are the different sources for information about Michelle Obama used in this documentary? Which seem more or less reliable? Why?

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