Malia Obama’s Movie Busts: Charges of ‘Nepotism’

By: Lauren | Published: Mar 12, 2024

Malia Obama was all smiles as she arrived at the Sundance Film Festival last month for the premiere of her short film “The Heart.”

But sadly for Malia, the film got mostly negative reviews, and many are calling out the former first daughter as another example of nepotism in the entertainment industry.

Who Is Malia Obama?

Malia is the eldest daughter of former president, Barack Obama, and former first lady, Michelle Obama. Of course, when her father was in office, Malia was one of the most famous teenagers on the planet.

Former president Barack Obama walks with his daughter Malia toward Marine One while departing the White House on April 7, 2016

Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Even though Obama left the Oval Office in 2016, the world has still been watching Malia Obama closely as she went off to college and started her career in the film and television industry.


From Harvard to Hollywood

After graduating high school, Malia famously enrolled at Harvard University, one of the most prestigious ivy league schools on the planet.

The campus of Harvard Business School and Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts

Source: Brooks Kraft/Corbis/Getty Images

After she graduated, Malia interned on the popular HBO show “Girls,” and then got her first real job as a staff writer for Donald Glover’s series “Swarm.”

Malia Obama Was Certainly Succeeding in Her Career

Ask anyone in Hollywood, and they will explain just how challenging it can be to get a foot in the door of this hyper-competitive industry, let alone climb the ranks.

Still from Halle Berry’s series “Extant”

Source: Amazon Prime Video

But shortly after deciding to work in the entertainment industry Malia was already working as a production assistant to Halle Berry’s famous series “Extant.”

The Obamas Also Segued Into Entertainment

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, while Malia was getting her career off the ground, her parents, Barack and Michelle Obama, decided to join her in the entertainment industry.

Former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama/Logo for the Obama’s entertainment company Higher Ground Productions

Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/Higher Ground Productions

The Obamas started Higher Ground Productions in 2018, and by 2020, they had already won an Oscar for the documentary “American Factory.” The production company has been quite successful overall.

Making It on Her Own

However, even though the Obamas have a successful production company, Malia decided she didn’t want to work for or with her parents, at least during her first few years in the industry.

LaTonya Borsay, Tunde Adebimpe, Ayesha Nadarajah, and Malia Ann Obama attend the "The Heart" Premiere at the Short Film Program 1 during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival

Source: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

While she hasn’t commented directly on the decision, it’s probably safe to assume that Malia didn’t want to be seen as using her name or connections to make it in Hollywood. However, that plan didn’t quite pan out.


Working With Donald Glover Instead of Barack Obama

Last year, at only 24 years old, Malia decided she wanted to give writing and directing a try. But instead of working with her parents’ production company, she pitched the idea for her short film to Donald Glover’s company, Gilga.

Donald Glover attends the Amazon Prime's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" New York Premiere

Source: Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images

Gilga and Glover decided to go ahead with the film Malia entitled “The Heart.” Though Glover said he told Malia when they signed the deal, “You’re Obama’s daughter. So if you make a bad film, it will follow you around.”


Malia’s Short Film Was Certainly a Risky Choice

There’s no doubt that Malia’s decision to release a short film at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival was a bold move.

Promotional photograph for the Sundance Film Festival 2024 of an audience taking their seats before a viewing


First, because Malia is so young and has little experience in the industry, and second, because she is Obama’s daughter, her film would never be just like all the others.


Maila Ann Didn’t Fool Anyone

There was nothing she could do about her age, but Malia did try to conceal her identity by naming herself “Malia Ann” in the credits instead of Malia Obama.

Malia Obama attends a State Dinner at the White House on March 10, 2016

Source: Oliver Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

However, Malia didn’t fool anyone. Everyone at Sundance, as well as everyone who has watched the film since, knew from the very first scene that Obama’s daughter was the director.


Less Than Stellar Reviews for “The Heart”

The Heart” tells the story of a “lonely man [who] grieves the death of his mother after an argument about groceries and an odd request in her will.”

Screenshot from Letterboxd of Malia Obama’s short film “The Heart”

Source: Letterboxd

While the film is certainly meant to ignite empathy from the viewer, that’s certainly not what Malia got from reviewers. Some people did truly enjoy the movie, but many others had harsh criticisms, such as calling it “truly dreadful,” a “half-baked short,” and Malia’s “first attempt at a short [made] very little sense.”


Malia Obama: Just Another Nepo Baby?

Some reviewers were more focused on the fact that Malia was able to get a giant company like Gilga to produce her first-ever short and, even more shockingly, actually get it played at Sundance. These kinds of opportunities are unbelievably rare for almost everyone else in the world.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama, and Sasha Obama, sit for a family portrait in the Oval Office

Source: Pete Souza/White House/Getty Images

One reviewer even called out Michelle and Barack, writing, “The Obamas took on entire new careers so Malia Obama could be a nepo baby in the right industry.”


The Ongoing Nepotism Debate

Malia Obama is just the latest in the ongoing debate about nepotism, aka “nepo babies” in the entertainment industry. Some argue that children of famous people shouldn’t be getting opportunities above others just because of their names. Whereas others say that there’s nothing wrong with seizing an opportunity to succeed based on family connections.

The Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California

Source: David McNew/Getty Images

Either way, as “The Heart” was Malia’s first attempt at directing, it’s highly likely that she will try again. And if she doesn’t have what it takes, name or no name, she won’t make it in Hollywood.