Why the Obamas Didn't Win an Oscar Even Though Their Netflix Doc 'American Factory' Did

"Congrats to Julia and Steven, the filmmakers behind American Factory, for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change," President Obama tweeted

The Obamas’ production company Higher Ground got off to a gold and glittering start with its Netflix film American Factory, which left Sunday’s Academy Awards with the Oscar for Best Documentary.

Both former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted out their congratulations to the filmmakers, Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and Jeff Reichert, for their Oscar win.

“Congrats to Julia and Steven, the filmmakers behind American Factory, for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change,” President Obama, 58, wrote. “Glad to see two talented and downright good people take home the Oscar for Higher Ground’s first release.”

Mrs. Obama, 56, added her own well-wishes while touting Higher Grounds’ first big win.

“Congrats to Julia, Steven, and the whole crew on winning Best Documentary for #AmericanFactory, Higher Ground’s first release!” she wrote. “So glad to see their heart and honesty recognized—because the best stories are rarely tidy or perfect. But that’s where the truth so often lies.”

The Obamas themselves, however, did not earn Oscars: They and Higher Ground signed onto the doc after it was already made and had debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and so they weren’t the kinds of hands-on producers recognized with a statute. (That means Mrs. Obama’s EGOT will have to wait, despite her Grammy win last month.)

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama/ Twitter

American Factory documents the post-industrial landscape of Dayton, Ohio, and the community’s elation and waning excitement when a Chinese auto glass company opens a new factory on the site of a closed General Motors auto factory.

“Our film is from Ohio and China,” Reichert said while accepting the Oscar. “But it really could be from anywhere that people put on a uniform, punch a clock, trying to make their families have a better life. Working people have it harder and harder these days. And we believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”

The Obamas signed a multi-year deal with Netflix in 2018, planning a slate of content ranging from TV series to films and documentaries, both fiction and nonfiction.

“One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” President Obama said then.

American Factory was an opportunity for viewers to learn about others whom they didn’t have things in common, Obama later said in a sit-down interview with the film’s now Academy Award-winning directors last year.

“We want people to be able to get outside of themselves and experience and understand the lives of somebody else, which is what a good story does — it helps all of us feel some sort of solidarity with each other,” Obama said. “Let’s see if we can all elevate a little bit outside of our immediate self-interest and our immediate fears and our immediate anxieties and kind of take a look around and say, ‘Huh, we’re part of this larger thing.’”

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