Why The Obamas' Leave The World Behind Caused A Major Stir Online

This article contains spoilers for "Leave the World Behind."  

"Leave the World Behind" is a new apocalyptic thriller streaming on Netflix, created by Higher Ground Productions, the production company that Barack and Michelle Obama founded in 2018. Other Higher Ground Productions projects have included "Belonging," a revealing documentary about Michelle, and the kids' show "Waffles + Mochi." This is their first fiction movie.

An adaptation of the Rumaan Alam novel of the same name, "Leave the World Behind" stars Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali, and Kevin Bacon. Again, it's worth noting that it's a work of fiction, which doesn't necessarily seem like it needs to be pointed out, but therein lies at least some of the controversy surrounding the movie. Certain viewers who watched "Leave the World Behind" saw it more as a potential portent of what's really to come for our country. 

Particularly since the Obamas produced it, many took its apocalyptic premise as a warning. In a nutshell, while on a family weekend away on Long Island, New York, Amanda and Clay Sandford, played by Roberts and Hawke respectively, and their kids find themselves encountering a media and technology collapse, mysterious plane and car crashes, elevated radiation levels across the U.S., people retreating to bunkers, and a general breakdown of society.

Certain viewers think Leave the World Behind is a sign of things to come

Viewers took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to share why they thought the film was more of a prophecy than just a straightforward sci-fi thriller. "The movie 'Leave the World Behind' is definitely a message to what's happening and what's to come. It's very much in line with what we've been saying for years: Stock up on [non] perishables and water," one user posted. Another wrote, "I'm no gone lie. The movie slick spooked me though. Especially since I remember they did that nation wide phone systems alert test a few years ago. Plus the Obama's behind this film too [...] I feel like this film is a take heed moment." 

A third commenter agreed, arguing, "The scariest part is that we are living in this movie and not too far off from where it ended up." The perspective that "Leave the World Behind" is more true to life than it is fiction is, to some extent, supported by what Sam Esmail, the writer and director of the film, told Vanity Fair. Esmail revealed that Barack Obama gave him feedback on the script. "I am writing what I think is fiction, for the most part," Esmail recalled. "[...] But I'm exaggerating and dramatizing. And to hear an ex-president say you're off by a few details [...] I thought I was off by a lot! The fact that he said that scared the f*** out of me."

Some also think a scene from Leave the World Behind is anti-white people

Other viewers took issue with one specific scene in which the daughter of Mahershala Ali's character says, "I'm asking you to remember that if the world falls apart, trust should not be doled out easily to anyone, especially white people." One enraged user posted on X about the scene, claiming that it was "demonizing white people." Others joined in, with one raging, "I was absolutely disgusted seeing this. Almost turned it off. This is appalling."

Then there was Elon Musk, current X owner and Tesla founder, who took issue with the fact that Teslas were shown crashing in the movie. He posted in response to a sequence showing Julia Roberts trying to get her family away from seemingly murderous cars, clarifying, "Teslas can charge from solar panels even if the world goes fully Mad Max and there is no more gasoline!" 

It's worth noting that the point of the scene was less about Teslas and electric cars running out of power, and more about them being potentially vulnerable — at least in the fictional world of the film — to cyberattack. As one user asserted, "Wasn't about them not being charged [...] but going rogue." Whether it's because of or despite the controversy, "Leave the World Behind," is doing well. It was Netflix's most-streamed film in its first two weeks of release with over 86 million views.