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Michelle Obama at CAA Amplify 2024 and Other Highlights

Michelle Obama at CAA Amplify 2024 and Other Highlights

Michelle Obama at CAA Amplify 2024 and Other Highlights

The attendees of CAA Amplify are accustomed to an annual lineup comprised of their own high-wattage, high-impact peers, but one of this year’s speakers was truly peerless.

Michelle Obama took the stage at the Ojai Valley Inn on Tuesday with Regina King for a conversation in which the former First Lady reflected on her life since the White House and what she and president Barack Obama are looking to do with their production company, Higher Ground.

“What’s the format that people come together and learn? It’s movies, it’s short films, it’s stories,” said Obama, whose banner’s releases in the past year included the Jon Batiste documentary American Symphony, biopic Rustin and mystery thriller Leave the World Behind. “This is where America is, and you’ve got to meet people where they are. If Hollywood is where they are, as Barack and I think, then how can we be a part of changing this, helping to be a part of this landscape and broadening the types of stories that get told?”

King noted that Higher Ground’s slate has diversified from the type of serious docs (American Factory, Crip Camp) it launched with, which Obama said was more emblematic of her husband’s tastes. Her own are more light-hearted and populist (if you can think of an unscripted series, she has probably seen it).

With daughter Malia in the audience (and other daughter Sasha, who was celebrating her 23rd birthday, elsewhere on the premises), Obama projected candor in the mostly off-the-record discussion that made it clear her time in the White House was only a fraction of the events that have shaped her identity (and one that she is not looking to return to).  

The former First Lady was a fitting program anchor in a year in which political movements – and the role of the arts and media within its currents – has felt more urgent than ever. “Welcome to the impossible moment we find ourselves in,” CAA motion picture agent Maha Dakhil said in her remarks to open the day. “I welcome you, acknowledging that we are in crisis. I welcome you, admitting that this year, it’s hard to find the right words to speak up. It’s hard to find courage, when courage is widely discouraged. I welcome you, acknowledging there’s no such thing as safe spaces, only brave places where we must all meet, challenge ourselves and challenge one another.

“Here we are Black, brown, Asian, Indigenous, queer, trans, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, all faiths, no faith,” Dakhil continued, sounding a call to unity amid difference. “We are all carrying our own individual pain, but when we call people in to our experience as opposed to calling them out, when we proactively seek each other out to understand their story, we are reminded that your fight will always be my fight… Today you will hear stories that will inspire your soul and reignite your courage to lead with your head up when you might be tempted to keep your head down just to get by. Democracy was not won by quiet self-preservation. Like all improbable things, democracy is only preserved by intention, action, community and hope, and I promise you will find all these things in this room.”

Read more about what was found in the room below.

What’s At Stake: Democracy 2024” – ACLU executive director Anthony Romero and National Women’s Law Center president and CEO Fatima Goss Graves, in conversation with Christy Haubegger

“I can’t cede my beliefs to the right’s vision of the world,” Goss Graves said in response to whether her faith in the justice system and rule of law had faltered in light of revelations of ethical lapses among Supreme Court justices and a former president.

The two progressive lawyers and their respective organizations have collectively filed numerous lawsuits over the years against such policies as Muslim immigration restrictions, book bans and curbs on reproductive rights. “Litigation can help you protect rights in real time,” said Romero, adding that even in the minority of cases they lose, there are still gains. “Every day we keep a clinic open where a woman accesses reproductive health services is a day for justice. We’re going to drag our feet and throw as much sand into the machine as we can.”

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Haubegger – whom Dakhil earlier introduced as “Amplify’s fairy godmother” for her role in creating the summit when she was a CAA executive – asked her panel of experts if they anticipated that the Dobbs decision (which the Supreme Court announced while the 2022 Amplify summit was in session two years ago) reversing Roe v. Wade would lead to the Right to Contraception Act failing in the Senate now. “For sure. They’ve always been clear their agenda is going back to both a very narrow idea of controlling the role women have in society. It’s a narrow idea of motherhood at home, not a lot of women in public life, but they haven’t been able to say that out loud,” said the NWLC’s Goss Graves. “Dobbs unleashed something special in folks. They captured something in the courts, so they began testing: Why do you need all forms of contraception? IVF?”

Romero noted that the crackdown on reproductive rights could have a silver lining, however. “They gave the most potent tool in this election,” he said, noting that this issue could motivate younger voters and affect upticket races and ballot referendums in multiple states in a climate in which they have otherwise been disillusioned by the administration’s stance on the war in Gaza and on immigration. “Otherwise, it would be hard to animate the number of people we need to animate in this election.”

Although to this reporter, it sounded like Goss Graves and Romero were anticipating for a second Trump term, Haubegger asked them to provide an action item for the assembled media luminaries, noting that “hope is a to-do list item.”

“My job is to put in place rules and policies and laws to allow people to actualize our full humanity,” said Romero, noting that his litigation over unjust policies comes alive with storytelling — in other words, narrative examples of their impact on people. “If Trump gets elected, we will do our battles, we’ve got the battles. But you’ve got to give people hope and show stories of their roots, their resilience. You are keepers of the human spirit. I look to you all to keep those flames alive.”

More to come.

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