“If we can open up a little bit more to each other and share our stories, our real stories, that’s what breaks down barriers. But in order to do that, you have to believe that your story has value. Be vulnerable. Dare to be vulnerable.”
We all know who The Obama’s are. We knew Michelle as the former first lady of the United States, but we didn’t actually know her. We still don’t. For so long we knew small details of her life, but through the words of reporters/journalists. This documentary gives us an insight into who she is as a person without all the labels others had placed on her, and on her own terms. Becoming is a documentary film which accompanies Michelle Obama on her 34-city book tour. The film acts as a companion piece for her bestselling memoir of the same name released in 2018, and allows us to hear her reflections on being a first lady, mum, sister, daughter, wife, human being. We’re given access to a behind-the-scenes look at her life before becoming first lady, during, and after.
Along with many other things, she’s an advocate for promoting the voices of people who aren’t heard and encourages us to “take in the story.” As well as this, we need to be honest about who we are and share this. Some of the most inspirational moments where Michelle’s willingness to admit where she’s struggled. She also occasionally turns the narrative away from herself to highlight the stories both of people she personally knows, and people she met along the way. A significant theme which weaved the film together was that of the significance of stories – a call for viewers to find their voices. We as humans are unique, equipped with our own personal stories that no one else can possibly tell better than ourselves (other than God of course.)
Being the first black family to occupy the White House, a harsher spotlight was placed on her and her family than previous Presidents. Being black and being a woman made her an easy target. The way she was able to navigate this and find her own path by moving out of her husbands shadow is inspiring, and she urges us to do the same. To walk on our own paths. To share our stories. Because when we share our stories, we give others the confidence to do the same. When we take even one step in being brave, we’re letting those around us know that they can be brave too.
We are the authentic narrators of our story.
“I hope my story urges you to see the power of your story and to own that.”
The film reminded me that representation matters. At a community event, Michelle mentioned that she particularly wanted to hear the stories of young people. Which fuels her belief in the “power of gathering.” Along with the gatherings of people in large rooms for her book tour, Michelle made sure to have intimate meetings with groups of people in much smaller rooms to fuel discussions and for individual stories to be heard, and the one that stood out to me was the group which comprised of black girls and women. One girl, a Mexican-American named Elizabeth expresses her confusion at being picked to attend a session with Michelle as she doesn’t do anything that makes her stand out. She goes to school and then goes to work in order to provide for her family. To this, Michelle replied, “that story, with all the highs and lows and what seems so ordinary, and what seems like nothing to you is your power.”
There’s something powerful about a room full of back women.
These women all look up to her, Michelle was their ‘representation.’ There was an intimacy to the gatherings. People were sharing their stories and others were listening. I started thinking about all the women of colour (particularly black women) who would now aspire to become Presidents. Now that they’ve seen Michelle Obama, a woman of colour, a black woman be such an important figure in the world, they too can see themselves in her. I admired how Michelle gave us an insight into her life, the nitty grittiness of it and not just the manicured and polished twice version. She speaks of how she went to Princeton University despite her teachers telling her she wouldn’t get in. Her perseverance was remarkable, and it didn’t stop there. At Princeton, she speaks of how it was the first time in her life where she stood out. She was one of a handful of minority students. She had to overcome imposter syndrome. Another story which can encourage other people of colour who have experienced the same.
“We can’t afford to wait for the world to be equal to start feeling seen.”
From not fitting in at Princeton, to frequently being labeled an “angry black woman” during the presidential campaign, all these things are part of her story. She’s shared this with us to show the importance of storyteeling. Though this happened, she showed resilience and continued to spread positivity.
“We’re sharing a set of experiences.”
Hearing other people’s stories, from university students, to her head of security, to high schoolers, it reminds that everyone is important. None of us should be striving to become Michelle Obama. We should strive to become ourselves. Now that we’ve seen all that Michelle has done so far, we can be encouraged to go far too. In our own ways. We can choose to work at our dreams for them to become realities.
“You’ve got to find the tools within yourself to feel visible and be heard and to use your voice.”