Malia Obama Drops Her Famous Last Name Professionally, Opting to Go by This Moniker Instead

She clearly wants to set herself apart from her powerhouse parents as she forges a career in Hollywood.

Malia Obama at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When your parents are as well-known and history making as Barack and Michelle Obama, it would be difficult for anyone to live in that shadow. The couple’s eldest daughter, Malia, has grown up in the glare of the spotlight—her father was elected President when she was just 10 years old—and, as she pursues her own career ambitions, is apparently deciding to use a stage name, E! News reports.

Keen to carve her own path and not rest on the high-powered Obama name, Malia has chosen to go by Malia Ann, her first name and middle name, for her newest film project, The Heart.

“Fans did a double take after Malia’s pen name was revealed in the Sundance Institute’s ‘Meet the Artist’ spotlight video, which introduced her as filmmaker Malia Ann, seemingly in an effort to distance herself from her powerful parents, who have also launched careers in entertainment,” E! News reports. 

Malia Obama

The Obama family in 2015

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As her parents move deeper into the film and podcasting space with their company Higher Ground Productions—which signed a multi-year contract with Netflix in 2018—they have produced feature films (Rustin, Leave the World Behind), television series (like Waffles + Mochi, a show for kids focused on healthy eating), documentaries (American Factory, Becoming), and podcasts (including “The Michelle Obama Podcast"). Even if the former President and First Lady hadn’t gone into the film industry, as Malia has chosen to do as well, the Obama name would receive accusations of nepo baby-ism; but, since Malia is in the film industry too, it makes sense why “Malia Ann” is her choice to go by professionally.

E! News pointed out that, when Malia made her red carpet debut at the premiere of The Heart at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, her parents weren’t there—likely because if they were, the attention would have shifted from Malia’s important work to the former First Couple. 

Malia Obama

Malia, seen here at a White House State Dinner in 2016, is keen to forge her own path as she pursues a career in Hollywood

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Malia described The Heart as “an odd little story, somewhat of fable, about a man grieving the death of his mother after she leaves him an unusual request in her will.” The film was produced by Donald Glover’s production company Gilga and marked Malia’s first time directing; she already has writing credits as a staff writer on Glover’s Amazon Prime show Swarm.

“She’s a very professional person,” Swarm co-creator Janine Nabers told Vanity Fair. “She’s an incredible writer and artist.” Glover agreed, adding that her parents didn’t play a role in how the Harvard graduate was treated on set.

“I feel like she’s just somebody who’s gonna have really good things coming soon,” he told Vanity Fair. “Her writing style is great. We can’t be easy on her just because she’s the President’s daughter.” 

Malia Obama

Malia debuted her film "The Heart," which she wrote and directed, at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Malia has shown an interest in film and television as far back as high school, when she spent the summer of 2014 and 2015 working in television studios in both New York City and Los Angeles. (She spent the summer of 2016 working as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain.) In 2017, Malia undertook an internship at The Weinstein Company film studio in New York City, about six months before she started at Harvard. She graduated from the Ivy League school in 2021 and worked on Swarm; she both wrote and directed The Heart.

Malia isn’t the first child of a celebrity to adopt a different moniker so as to differentiate themselves from his or her famous parents. Nicolas Cage changed his last name from the Hollywood powerhouse name Coppola, and Angelina Jolie too goes by her middle name, dropping her surname, Voight (most closely associated with her well-known father, fellow actor Jon).

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.