Michelle Obama’s New Film ‘Becoming’ is Pure Vanity. Was It Made With the Goal of Her ‘Becoming’ the First Female US President?
Jason O’Toole, RT, May 6, 2020
>Released today on Netflix, the new documentary about Michelle Obama’s epic book tour is as dull as watching paint dry – but it seems suspiciously designed to set her up for a run at the White House. The Obama dynasty, anyone?
Near the end of Michelle Obama’s self-serving documentary, she sits down with an older group of African-Americans who are discussing her memoir, and she lightheartedly tells them she just wants to “eavesdrop” on what they’re going to say about her.
Unfortunately for us viewers, she doesn’t return the compliment in ‘Becoming’, because there’s nothing revelatory about it whatsoever. Yes, it is warm and fluffy for the most part and it tugs at your heartstrings, especially when it comes to the appalling discrimination black people have faced – and continue to face today – in the so-called Land of Opportunity. But there’s no substance to it, and there’s very little insight into her role as the first ever black woman to hold the unofficial title of the First Lady of the United States.
At one point, Michelle is given a selfie stick as a gift and, while playfully trying it out, she flashes one of those forced, beguiling smiles she is famous for and offers her good side for the camera. You get the strong impression that every single second of this insipid documentary was as stage managed as that particular selfie.
By the end of this (supposed) fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows Michelle around on her massive 34-city tour, I was left asking myself: What core demographic is ‘Becoming’ truly aimed at? Those who have already read her 400-page memoir certainly won’t glean any new information from a single one of its 89 minutes. Ditto political junkies like myself. Put it this way, the media has been unable to generate any decent news stories from it – apart from her crying on the Obamas’ last day in power, and some stories about her kids growing up in the White House – which sums up everything about this boring, boring documentary.
It’s not done for laughs
It’s all so very carefully choreographed that I was surprised whenever there was any little faux pas, such as when she creepily says her first “big crush” was on her older brother Craig Robinson! It sounds very yucky and very, very wrong – but she was presumably trying to heap praise on him. However, I don’t know what the hell Michelle is thinking when she visits Craig at his plush home and, looking out of the window, asks: “Are those people terrorists?” Her brother doesn’t look impressed.
She obviously meant it as a joke, but it wasn’t amusing. Michelle comes across as one of those people who thinks she’s much funnier than she really is, which is perhaps not her fault and more down to star-struck fans fawning over her all the time, as you get to witness ad nauseam in the doc. It becomes a bit tiresome at times to watch as the audience members laugh too hard. They often sound much worse than any laugh track in a sitcom.
Michelle might have to forget about embarking on a career as a comedian anytime soon, but there’s no disputing that she has really struck a strong chord with young women – particularly ethnic minorities – judging from her interactions with them at her book signing events. It is admirable how Michelle actively engages in a genuine and meaningful way with those of the so-called ‘snowflake generation’. But that’s not to say Michelle doesn’t come across as conceited at times too, because she certainly does.
The documentary only really comes to life on two occasions – the first being when much bitterness seeps into her voice while speaking about the huge amount of negative media she was subjected to when her husband first ran for the White House in 2008. But, as a university-educated woman, she would’ve gone into the campaign with her eyes wide open, knowing full well that as a black couple the right-wing media would attempt to drag them through the mud. Also, as several commentators can be heard saying in the background while old news footage is shown in the documentary, she put herself front and centre by actively campaigning in a very political way, which makes her a legitimate target.
Secondly, while it was all covered already in her memoir, it was very interesting to hear her speak in person so movingly about her family background, particularly her dead father who suffered from MS. From the way she speaks about her modest background, I was surprised when she took us on a guided tour of her childhood home, because it was much bigger and a nicer house than I had pictured in my head. It probably would’ve done her no harm to have mentioned here that her parents had rented the top storey from an aunt who lived below them. Otherwise it could give viewers the impression that her background was more of a middle-class upbringing.
Not that any of this matters because – working class or not – there’s no denying that the Obamas’ epic story is an American Dream come true, which is all the more reason to be disappointed with such a bland documentary about it.
‘The most popular woman in the world’
Perhaps ‘Becoming’ was merely put together for the purposes of flogging even more books and to get the ball rolling on the Obamas’ production deal with Netflix. Yet, despite Michelle often having said she has no interest in running for political office, this documentary feels nothing short of a political broadcast – albeit a very lengthy one.
Michelle gives out mixed signals here about her future plans; at first she says they don’t want to stick around forever, only for her to then say with her next breath she can imagine herself being a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair who is still dishing out pearls of wisdom. She may beat around the bush, but I suspect it’s true when she says: “There is another chapter waiting for me out there.”
Those words sound to me -– speaking here as someone who did an MA in political communication – very much like she is contemplating throwing her hat into the political ring; perhaps not in the 2024 White House race, but possibly in 2028. The now-58-year-old would still be considerably younger than either Trump or Biden now, even if she held off running until 2032, as a sprightly 70-year-old!
The uninspiring Joe Biden, this year’s Democratic pick, who has promised to choose a female running mate, would probably be home and hosed – even in spite of the sex allegation against him – if he could cajole Michelle into being his number two this time around. However, I’d imagine she would probably reckon she’s overqualified for the Veep role – not because she would see it as a thankless job, but rather because she comes across in ‘Becoming’ as someone who wouldn’t like to be in the shadow of anybody ever again, especially a doddery old man with already one foot in the grave. After all, as her brother says – and certainly not with any modesty, either – Michelle is the “most popular woman in the world.”
The Obamas made history in a very positive way when they entered the White House as its first black couple, and it’s easy to imagine Barack – who wisely took a step back in this documentary and allowed the spotlight to shine on Michelle – as the first-ever First Gentleman of the United States, as his wife is sworn in as America’s first non-male president. Jeez, I’d pay good money to see Hillary Clinton’s face on that day…