Obamas herald new era in power of television

Mission: Obama’s new TV shows will aim to “identify people doing amazing work”.

Is TV more powerful than politics? Barack and Michelle Obama will produce a raft of new documentaries and TV shows for Netflix — they aim to promote “greater empathy” across the globe.

“I would not have been president had I not learned very early on in my professional career the importance of stories,” Barack Obama recently said.

Soon he will be able to share these stories with countless people across the globe — thanks to a multi-million dollar deal he and his wife Michelle struck with Netflix last month.

In a statement, Netflix said the Obamas will produce different types of project including “scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features.”

While Barack insists the projects will avoid partisan politics, he still identified a broader political goal: “if we are hearing each other’s stories and recognising ourselves in each other, then our democracy works.”

But just how influential can television and film really be?

In 2006, former US Vice-President Al Gore released his famous climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The film won him the Nobel Peace Prize, with one study finding that clips made viewers more motivated to fight climate change.

And it is not just documentaries that can make an impact.

In recent years, the quirky US sitcom Modern Family has been credited with increasing support for same-sex marriage among everyday Americans.

Is television more powerful than politics?

Producer in chief

Nonsense, some respond. The decisions politicians make affect every single person, every single day — from the taxes workers pay, to what children learn in schools. Politics has the power to shape every part of life, big or small.

Not so fast, others respond. Television shapes society’s values. The finely wrought characters of soaps and dramas foster empathy with those unlike ourselves, and arresting documentaries inspire debate and action to fight injustice.

You Decide

  1. Can television change the world?

Activities

  1. Write a list of your favourite TV shows. Discuss them with a partner if you like. Would you say that any of these programmes changed the world? Why/why not?

Some People Say...

“Good television can make our world a better place.”

Christiane Amanpour

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Barack Obama has appeared in several documentaries and TV shows in recent years, such as discussing climate change with Leonardo DiCaprio in Before the Flood.
What do we not know?
Details about the projects. We do not know exactly what type of shows will be produced, when they will be released, or if the Obamas are planning on starring in the programmes as well as producing them.

Word Watch

Insists
This was recently reiterated by Netflix executive Ted Sarandos who declared that there would be “no political slant to the programming”.
Partisan
Having strong support for a particular group, party or cause. So in this instance we can expect the Obamas to refrain from direct attacks on the Republican party and President Donald Trump.
Study
For more information, see The Conversation link in Become An Expert.
Same-sex marriage
The show depicts a same-sex marriage in the relationship between Cam and Mitch.

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