By Erin Jensen – Neflix has a new first lady. The Michelle Obama documentary “Becoming,” announced just last week, is a 90-minute film (out Wednesday), a companion of sorts to her 2018 memoir that topped USA TODAY’s list of the 100 best-selling books that year. The memoir was promoted with a 34-city book tour launched in Chicago, her hometown, with Oprah Winfrey.
The tour, Michelle’s upbringing, her family and her eight years as first lady are explored in the project, which also features her husband, former President Barack Obama; her daughters, Sasha and Malia; her mother and White House roommate, Marian Shields Robinson; and her brother, Craig Robinson. Michelle Obama also contemplates her next chapter in life.
The documentary conveys painful moments of prejudice and scrutiny she experienced as first lady, but also the tender moments she shares with loved ones.
The must-know moments from “Becoming”:
In the early days of mentoring Barack at a law firm, Michelle recognized that their relationship might be more than just professional. She was intrigued by “that Barack Obama voice” that answered her first phone call. “I really was like, ‘Whoa!’ The heat was coming out of the phone from that voice.”
The former president says “It’s fun listening to her tell these stories,” although he doesn’t exactly agree with all the details. “Part of me is like, ‘No, hold on a second. That’s not exactly how it happened.'”
Michelle shares she had reservations about dating her future husband, saying the pairing would be “so tacky. The two black people from Harvard. I was like, ‘That’s just what they’re waiting for.'”
But Michelle eventually fell for the future commander-in-chief and realized going in that she would need a strong sense of self.
“I knew he was a tsunami coming after me, and if I didn’t get my act together, I would be swept up,” she says. “I didn’t just want to be an appendage to his dreams.”
“It is hard blending two lives together,” Michelle confesses, adding that when the two attended marriage counseling, she hoped “they’d fix him.” She says an important lesson was that “my happiness is not dependent on him making me happy.”
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Barack Obama shares adorable birthday message to Michelle Obama
Malia and Sasha make a brief appearance
Michelle greets her “little potato,” firstborn Malia after an event.
“I cried, again,” says Malia, 21.
“What made you cry?” her mother asks softly.
“This has demonstrated, in a way, (that), damn, those years weren’t for nothin’,'” Malia says. “You see that huge crowd out there… People are here because people really believe in love and hope in other people. Also, every time you guys play Stevie Wonder, I don’t know, I cry a little bit.”
Younger sister Sasha, 18, also recognizes her mother’s accomplishments.
“I’m excited for her to be proud of what she’s done, ’cause I think that’s the most important thing for a human to do, is to be proud of themselves,” she says.
Michelle shares struggles, burden of perfection
Michelle isn’t shy about conveying the personal sacrifices she made as first lady. She tells Oprah Winfrey, during a stop on the tour, that she sobbed for half an hour aboard Air Force One when Barack left office.
“I think it was just the release of eight years of trying to do everything perfectly,” she reasons. She says transitioning to being part of the first family after Barack’s inauguration in 2009 was like being “shot out of a cannon.”
The challenge? “Your life isn’t yours anymore.”
At a community event in Philadelphia, Michelle says, “So little of who I am happened in those eight years. So much more of who I was happened before.”
She got her first taste of public skewering on the campaign trail for the 2008 election, which taught her to be less spontaneous.
“I stopped talking off the cuff. I stopped talking freely,” she says. “I used teleprompters. I had to be much more scripted than I had ever been before.”
The intense criticism cut Michelle deeply, and she says it’s important to express the hurt: “That changes the shape of a person’s soul.”
Life after being first lady
Life after the White House, with a dimmer spotlight, has been “absolutely freeing” after the pressure from Barack’s historic win.
“It’s hard to wake up every day and maintain that level of perfection that was absolutely required of me and Barack as the first black president and first lady,” she says.
The documentary depicts prejudices Michelle and her family experienced. She describes her grandfather as a highly intelligent man who was held back due to his race and class.
She recalls being one of a handful of minority students at Princeton University, where she says a roommate moved out because of Michelle’s skin color. The student’s mother “was horrified that I was black,” Michelle remembers. “She felt her daughter was in danger. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Years later, Michelle encountered racism as first lady. (“Hang in there, Obama,” a sign reads, next to an image of a noose.) In 2016, Michelle was referred to as an “Ape in heels” in a Facebook post that reportedly drew support from a mayor in West Virginia, who later resigned.
Michelle believes honesty is key for progress.
“If we’re gonna get anywhere with each other, we have to be willing to say who we are,” she says. “I am the former first lady of the United States, and also a descendant of slaves. It’s important to keep that truth right there.”