Becoming (4 stars)


Michelle Obama is the subject of an inspirational and upbeat documentary

Michelle Obama is, famously, a force of nature. Former lawyer and First Lady of the United States she, together with husband Barack, have garnered a reputation for being passionate advocates for equal rights and inclusion. Yet the strength of this Netflix documentary about Mrs Obama is not only that it harnesses her unmatched energy, but also that it captures the quieter, more reflective moments of her story.

Sharing a name with Michelle's bestselling 2018 memoir, Becoming follows the author as she undertakes a global speaking tour to promote its publication. Speaking candidly about her own history and the challenges she has faced as an African American woman from the South Side of Chicago fighting to make her mark in a world not readily open to her input, she brings the house down in every city she visits.

Directed by Nadia Hallgren, making her feature debut, the film beats a path beyond the publicity trail, following Michelle as she speaks to small groups of young people at youth centres and universities, visits her childhood home and reflects on the highs and lows of life in the White House. It also highlights the lives of a handful of the adolescents who have been touched by Michelle's experiences.

Filled with fly-on-the-wall footage and talking heads, Becoming doesn't bring any stylistic bells and whistles. It doesn't need to – its subject really does speak for herself. (Fittingly, Barack and their children Malia and Sasha only appear fleetingly.) A natural, comfortable and humorous orator, Michelle is no stranger to scrutiny and readily admits that she has learnt how to cultivate her public persona – and, indeed, discusses how she uses her much-commented-upon appearance to highlight diverse designers. Yet her warmth and openness are never anything less than genuine.

Inspirational and upbeat in the main, the film is, at times, achingly bittersweet. There is no getting away from the fact that, just a few short years after the Obamas vacated the White House, the optimism of their administration has been replaced by an atmosphere of prejudice, bigotry and fear. It's difficult to come to terms with the size of that missed opportunity. Yet, Becoming's lasting message is one of much-needed positivity; a reminder that people are inherently good, that progress is being made and that change is entirely possible. We just have to hang on to the hope.

Available to watch on Netflix now.