EXCLUSIVE: A documentary about President Barack and Mrs. Michelle Obama’s portraits commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery is being drawn up by Smithsonian Channel.
The Paramount Global-owned cabler is launching Picturing the Obamas on September 10 – three days after the unveiling of the White House portraits of the Obamas.
The doc will see curators, journalists, and art critics discuss the ways that the pair’s portraits disrupted traditional presidential portraiture and spurred museums to reach new audiences.
The portraits were unveiled in 2018, captivating the world, becoming an instant social media sensation and bringing record numbers to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The Obamas’ portraits were created by two Black artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, a first for presidential portraits commissioned for the museum’s collection.
They doubled annual attendance at the National Portrait Gallery and they went on a national tour last year.
The special will include exclusive access as the portraits travel to museums in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and Brooklyn. The film examines the legacy of the first Black president and First Lady through the experiences of everyday people. It follows a Latina community organizer, a young artist from Southside Chicago, and multigenerational members of the oldest Black sorority as they visit the portraits and reflect on the meaning of the Obamas today.
It will also include first-hand accounts from the artists, museum curators, visitors, and the President and First Lady themselves.
The doc is produced by Field Studio, the company set up by How the Monuments Came Down and The Future of America’s Past producers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren, who will exec produce alongside Smithsonian Channel’s Tim Evans.
“Barack and Michelle Obama continue to inspire individuals and communities nationwide. We are honored to have the opportunity to premiere Picturing the Obamas and explore the cultural impact of their portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and this historic presidency,” said Pamela Aguilar, VP, Content & Programming, Smithsonian Channel.
“When we unveiled the Obamas’ portraits, everyone in the room knew we were witnessing a moment in history,” added Kim Sajet, director, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “But I don’t think anyone anticipated the emotional impact these artworks would ultimately have on so many Americans across the country. Through the power of documentary film, Picturing the Obamas takes us out of the gallery and into communities, reminding us that art is powerful and portraiture can change the world.”