‘Becoming’ Doc Is a Masterpiece of Representation, Both in Front and Behind the Camera

BEcoming BELatina Latinx Nadia Hallgren
Photo Credit IG @nadiahallgren

It seems that the Obama Administration was eons ago, and that the long nightmare of the last three and a half years has no end. However, there are pearls on Netflix that make us think of better times.

Among them is the documentary of former First Lady Michelle Obama Becoming, which follows her tour around the country promoting her book of memoirs of the same name.

From “When they go low, we go high” to interviews with her security team, Ms. Obama takes us on a journey through all the periods of a recent history that humanizes the figure of power in the foreground.

The repetitive use of “us” to refer to her marriage as a force behind her and her husband’s career is just the opening salvo in what Allison Willmore describes in her column for Vulture as “a snapshot of a couple moving in the opposite direction” to that of politics in the Trump era.

“Much of Becoming is about the brutal nature of and the toll exacted by the scrutiny that comes with the highest office in the land — how hard it was to weather the judgments, the racism, the threats, and the need to always rise above, and what a relief it is to be loosed of those burdens,” Willmore adds.

And if that is perceived so directly, it is because there’s someone fully aware of the subject behind the camera.

It’s the Bronx-born director with Puerto Rican and Afro-Latino roots, Nadia Hallgren, a student at the International Center of Photography whose name accompanies several pieces, including the Oscar-nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winner Trouble the Water, CNN’s Girl Rising, Fahrenheit 9/11, Searching for Sugarman, and The Hunting Ground.

After receiving a call from members of the Higher Ground team, the Obama film production company, Hallgren learned that the First Lady wanted to document her tour, and that they believed she should be the one to do it.

“This wonderful woman that everyone loves, it was a whole life in-the-making and a whole set of experiences that built up to the moment where she stepped on stage as the first lady,” explained the director to Essence about her approach to storytelling from the camera. “It was really important for me that we understood how that life becomes what it is — and it’s through community, it’s through love, it’s through parents who fought so hard to make sure their children were educated.”

To do this, it was important to dissect the character, and extract it from the presidential context, towards a more humane approach.

“I came up with the idea for the film and how I wanted to make the film and for me my original idea was not to tell Michelle Obama’s life, but it was a film about storytelling,” Hallgren said in another interview with Back Film. “A lot of the ways that I approached even the filming and the cinematography was I wanted people to have that experience of what it felt like to sit next to Mrs. Obama in a car ride and she’s talking to you or what it feels like to just be over her shoulder as she interacts with people; because it was such a specific quality to the way that she does things that is tremendously unique. I had never seen it before. I wanted people to get that same feeling.”

With a positive reception both in networks and among critics, Becoming is not only a portrait of one of the most influential women in the national history of recent years, but also a masterpiece through the eye of a talented Latina.