People/Biz

Obamas name exec team for their Higher Ground prodco ahead of Netflix projects

Former U.S.President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have appointed Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis as co-heads of Higher Ground Productions. Swaminathan (center) most recently oversaw film development at Annapurna. She has ...
February 26, 2019

Former U.S.President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have appointed Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis as co-heads of Higher Ground Productions.

Swaminathan (center) most recently oversaw film development at Annapurna. She has developed and produced documentary and fiction projects for filmmakers including Spike Jonze, Bennett Miller and George Clooney as well as docs for MTV and ESPN.

Meanwhile, Davis (left) oversaw development and shepherded film and television projects at Chernin Entertainment. She is a member of the Executive Circle for AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women and a board member of LIFT, a national non-profit focused on poverty reduction.

Swaminathan and Davis join Qadriyyah “Q” Shamsid-Deen (right), who serves as a creative executive for the company. She was previously program director at Ryan Murphy Television’s Half Initiative.

The appointments come after the Obamas and Higher Ground signed a multi-year content deal with global streaming giant Netflix, with projects ranging from docuseries and documentaries to unscripted and scripted series.

“With Higher Ground Productions, we hope to bring people together around common values and uncommon stories—and Priya, Tonia and Q are precisely the people to bring that vision to life,” said Barack Obama in a statement. “They’re masterful storytellers. They’re veterans in the industry. And they not only bring their unique perspectives and life experiences to every project, but they’re committed to finding new voices who have their own stories to tell. Michelle and I couldn’t be more excited about the team we’re assembling.”

“Our goal isn’t just to make people think — we want to make people feel and reach outside of their comfort zone,” added Michelle Obama. “With their thoughtfulness, creativity and empathy, we know that Priya, Tonia and Q will find the common thread within every story to inspire us to be something more. I’m thrilled about this team as professionals — and as people. They’re wonderful.”

Higher Ground promises to announce its initial project line-up soon.

(Photos by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of Higher Ground Productions)

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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