Becoming is a 2020 documentary, which was released on May 6th on Netflix and is based on Michelle Obama’s memoir of the same name. It was produced by the Obamas’ own production company, Higher Ground, in collaboration with Netflix and Big Mouth Productions.
I am enthralled by her documentary, which I found to be uplifting, insightful and humorous. It details her university experience, meeting Barack Obama and having to contend with stereotypical views on Black women and how they should behave whilst in the White House.
It appears that many others were also highly interested in Michelle Obama’s life, since there were massive queues for her book signing, shown in one scene in the documentary. I am particularly impressed with how Michelle spoke to her fans. She never failed to thank people for coming to see her and in one poignant moment, complimented a young Black woman who came dressed up in an elegant suit to see her idol.
In between interviews, we see glimpses of Michelle’s life in the form of photographs — such as her playing outside with her brother, Craig, as a child, her wedding day and her sitting eating dinner with her family. She cites that her dinner table was the place where she belongs. It was where her family had open conversations about anything and where she learnt how to be visible.
She notes that the wider world was different and not as kind. As a family- orientated person, she desired to go to Princeton, in order to follow in her brother’s footsteps. Her councillor at school said it was too big for her. She proved her wrong.
This was not the only instance in which Michelle was judged. Whilst at Princeton, one of her roommates moved out because her mum felt that sharing a room with a Black person put her life in danger. Michelle was unsurprisingly shocked, but always used her admirable work ethic to reach the highest heights. She recalls how she sat at the most important tables in the world, from castles to the G20 Summit to the kitchen table at the White House, where her daughters’ friends would come by often to eat fried chicken and biscuits.
Michelle believes that God placed her and Barack in the White House for a reason, which was to use their platform to empower those from minority backgrounds to strive for their dreams. Even though she is no longer First Lady, it is a role that will always be a part of who she is and how she conducts herself.
She continually seeks to empower young girls. In one scene, she speaks to a group of minority ethnic students. One girl, Elizabeth Cervantes, questions why she was able to become the first in her family to graduate high school and go to college. Michelle reminds her that it was because despite having to look after her brother and work to provide for her family as a result of her dad’s accident, she did not stop pursuing her dreams.
Hearing about all of Michelle’s phenomenal achievements — being a straight A student, Princeton and Harvard graduate and a lawyer in her 20s, to name a few — I was floored when I discovered that she felt that her life had no purpose when she began working as a lawyer at Sidley Austin LLP. She saw herself as a box-checker, doing things in a chronological order, failing to understand exactly why.
When she became a mentor to Barack in 1989 at the law firm that they were both practicing at, she found the answer. Michelle made me laugh as she detailed the first conversation she had with Barack. His voice apparently came out of the phone “with a heat” that intrigued Michelle. It did not match his ‘geeky’ image, but his voice oozed with so much charm that he eventually won her over, despite thinking that the relationship would be “tacky,” since he was her mentee.
He challenged her in so many ways. She realised that she had to discover herself to prevent herself from being an “appendage” to his dreams. She left Law and shortly afterwards gave birth to her daughters, Malia and Sasha, in 1998 and 2001, respectively.
Being an aspirational person, she was afraid of how motherhood would affect all that she had worked on thus far. She opens up about going to marital counselling with Barack, where she learnt that her happiness was not dependent on Barack making her happy.
The Obamas’ 2008 campaign was a rollercoaster. Michelle was repeatedly portrayed as an ‘angry Black woman’ and ‘Mrs Grievance’ because of her fears about the world not being ready for the first Black President. She knew that race would evidently be a large part of news about her due to her skin colour and because of how vocal and proud she was about her heritage.
Her speeches became more scripted as a result. However, something that was anything but scripted is her sharp tongue. She insisted that her daughters learn basic chores in the White House like making their own beds. When they quipped that her bed was made for her, she retorted: “I am First Lady and I have a degree.”
Michelle still continues with her activism work. She implores people from the Black community to vote so that her and her husband’s work in the White House was not in vain.
She is a role model that we all need: she is true to who she is, unapologetically honest and at the forefront of empowering women.
Please check out the documentary trailer HERE
AUTHOR: Danielle Desouza
I am a 21 year old Politics and Communication Masters student at LSE, makeshift musician and aspiring political broadcaster. I am a staunch supporter of both gender and racial equality, being female and Indian. I want to edge closer to this goal daily by bringing to light injustices, through all forms of journalism.