- Netflix recently signed a production deal with Barack and Michelle Obama.
- Obama spoke publicly about his deal with Netflix at a tech conference on Wednesday, which he said will focus on identifying and promoting people with interesting and important stories to tell that can help everyone around the world better understand each other.
LAS VEGAS – On Monday, Netflix announced that it had signed a multimillion deal with former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, and on Wednesday, Obama spoke publicly about the deal for the first time.
Obama was speaking at a tech conference in Las Vegas hosted by identity security company Okta when he was asked about the deal.
Obama explained that the Netflix deal was going to be focused on telling people’s stories. He said he hopes these stories will help people see and better understand one another and ultimately help us move past the divisive political discourse that has mired Washington for so long.
“I would not have been president had I not learned very early on in my professional career the importance of stories,” Obama told a standing-room-only crowd of thousands of people.
He recounted his first job out of college as a community organiser, helping bring various factions together to solve local problems from crime to underfunded schools. An older, experienced community organiser told the young Obama at the time that before he started to suggest solutions to problems, he should spend a month talking to people and hearing their stories.
“Everyone has a story that is pretty sacred” about the significant events in their lives, he said. Listening led to relationships, which led to people working together.
The Obamas used that lesson on the importance of listening when the future president campaigned for the Senate and presidency.
“We want to tell stories,” he said, “This [Netflix deal] becomes a platform. We are interested in lifting people up and identifying people doing amazing work.”
“We did this in the White House,” he said.
“For instance, the very first time Lin-Manuel Miranda performed the first song in Hamilton was at the White House at a poetry slam we did,” he said. At the time, Miranda had already won a Tony for “In the Heights.”
Obama asked him what he planned to perform and he said, “I’m going to do a rap about the first treasury secretary.” Obama said he wryly replied, “OK, good luck with that.”
Another time was when Obama’s good friend Bruce Springsteen did an intimate performance for the Obamas and their senior staff as a gift. He has since turned that into his current Broadway play Bruce in the USA, where he weaves music with stories from his life together.
That’s the kind of content Obama imagines he’ll produce for Netflix, he said, stories “we think are important, and lift up and identify talent, that can amplify the connections between all of us,” he said. “I continue to believe that if we are hearing each other’s stories and recognising ourselves in each other, then our democracy works.”
“We are all human. I know this sounds trite, and yet, right now globally, we have competing narratives,” he said.
As the world grapples with issues caused by globalization or migration, there are two ways to respond. Humans have historically responded by feeling threatened. “We go tribal. We go ethnic. we pull in, we push away,” he said.
But in the last 70-80 years, led by America and its ideal of freedom and democracy, “We can think and reason and connect and set up institutions based on rule of law and a sense of principals and the dignity and worth of every individual.”
Obama acknowledged that America, both at home and abroad, hasn’t always lived up to those ideals, particularly when it came to racism or gender equality. But he said we’ve made steady progress, “in fits and starts.”
“And now there’s a clash in those two ways of seeing the world,” he said, without naming any names or current political figures.
“I’m putting my money on the latter way,” Obama told the conference crowd. “That’s what we hope to be a voice to, through Netflix and through my foundation, where we’re identifying and training the next generation of leaders here in the United States and around the world. So they can start sharing their stories and cooperating.”
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