NEW YORK – August 31, 2022– Smithsonian Channel ™announced today a new documentary titled Picturing the Obamas, premiering September 10th. Viewers will learn from curators, journalists, and art critics about the ways in which President Barack and Mrs. Michelle Obama’s portraits commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery disrupt traditional presidential portraiture and spur museums to reach new audiences. The special will follow the unveiling of the White House portraits of the Obamas on September 7th.


From the moment they were unveiled in 2018, the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama captivated the world, becoming an instant social media sensation and bringing record numbers to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Historical portraits have long been reflections of white men and women in positions of power in their pose and depiction. The Obama portraits are groundbreaking not only because they feature the first Black President and First Lady, but also because of the artists behind them.  The game-changing portraits were created by two Black artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, a first for presidential portraits commissioned for the museum’s collection.


In response to overwhelming audience enthusiasm in DC — the portraits double annual attendance at the National Portrait Gallery — the Obama portraits embarked on a national tour last summer.  With exclusive access, Picturing the Obamas follows the portraits behind-the-scenes as they travel to museums in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and Brooklyn.  The film examines the legacy of the first Black president and First Lady through the experiences of everyday people.  The film follows a Latina community organizer, a young artist from Southside Chicago, and multigenerational members of the oldest Black sorority as they visit the portraits and reflect on the meaning of the Obamas today.


Picturing the Obamas provides first-hand accounts from the artists, museum curators, visitors, and the President and First Lady themselves. The first hour, “Portraits of Hope,” follows the Obama Portraits Tour to Chicago and Los Angeles and examines the significance of both the paintings and the Obama presidency. Viewers will relive the rise of Barack Obama and see how the portraits have fired imaginations across the country. The second hour, titled “Portraits of Change,” follows the Obama portraits as they make their way to Atlanta, Houston, and Brooklyn.  Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald share their experiences collaborating with Barack and Michelle Obama to create their stunning portraits. 


“Barack and Michelle Obama continue to inspire individuals and communities nationwide. We are honored to have the opportunity to premiere Picturing the Obamas and explore the cultural impact of their portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and this historic presidency,” explained Pamela Aguilar, VP, Content & Programming, Smithsonian Channel.


“When we unveiled the Obamas’ portraits, everyone in the room knew we were witnessing a moment in history,” said Kim Sajet, director, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “But I don’t think anyone anticipated the emotional impact these artworks would ultimately have on so many Americans across the country. Through the power of documentary film, Picturing the Obamas takes us out of the gallery and into communities, reminding us that art is powerful and portraiture can change the world.”


Picturing the Obamas premieres on Saturday, September 10 at 8/7c on the Smithsonian Channel ™. Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren serve as Executive Producers with Field Studio while Tim Evans serves as Executive Producer for the network.


Follow Smithsonian Channel™ on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date on the latest from the network as well as join the social media conversation at #PicturingtheObamas. Picturing the Obamas will be available on and the Smithsonian Channel app the next day.



Paramount Media Networks & MTV Entertainment Studios

Paramount Media Networks & MTV Entertainment Studios is one of the preeminent media entities in the world that connects with global audiences through its nine iconic brands – MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, CMT, Pop, Logo, Smithsonian, Paramount Network and TV Land – as well as MTV Entertainment Studios which produces acclaimed series and movies and the award-winning, Oscar-nominated MTV Documentary Films.


Field Studio

Field Studio is a collaboration of Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren, married documentary filmmakers and winners of four regional Emmy Awards for their past work, including How the Monuments Came Down (The WORLD Channel), The Future of America’s Past (American Public Television), and An Outrage (Kanopy).  Connect with Field Studio at


National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the nation’s story. The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.




Paramount Media Networks & MTV Entertainment Studios

Lauren Nowell,

Leshelle Sargent,

Renee Oliver,


CIVIC Entertainment Group

Dominique McDonald,

    Show Contacts