Barack Obama's Life, Seen Through Film

With the latter half of 2020 upon us, plenty of us will be yearning for the good old days when we weren’t in a global pandemic, human rights weren’t being stripped away so ignorantly and flippantly, and when the president of the USA could do more than spam Twitter with barely comprehensible tweets. Whilst Obama may not have been perfect, there is no denying he is intelligent, suave, thoughtful, and genuinely cared about the American people. His powerful voice and presence alone can draw you in and make you feel comforted and we could all do with some comfort this year. These three movies are based on various stages of Obama’s life, and although they are fictionalized versions, will make you reminiscent of a simpler time where you could rely on a world leader to lead.


3. Obama Anak Menteng

2010, 1 hr 45mins

This biopic is based on the book of the same name (which translates into Little Obama) and provides an insight into Barack’s life as a boy. He lived in Indonesia between 1967-1971 and due to his different background, was seen as strange by many of the other kids. Taking more liberties with factual events than the other movies on the list, Obama Anak Mentang is more about the story of an African-American boy who was confronted with trials and tribulations while living in Jakarta. Dematra interviewed 30 people who were friends or neighbors of the Obama family during their time in Indonesia as background research.


Director: Damien Dematra, John de Rantau

Starring: Hasan Al Farouq, Cara Lachelle, Radhit Syam


2. Barry

2016, 1hr 44mins

Although we can’t imagine Barack with anyone but the legendary former First Lady Michelle Obama, Barry depicts a relationship with a woman during his college days, a white woman named Charlotte. It delves into his time at Columbia University and ‘Barry’, who is notably never called Barack, is used as a vessel to explore class, race, and understanding his own black identity. We follow the future president to his lectures where a white kid questions aloud ‘why is it always about slavery?’, demonstrating the plethora of microagressions around. We watch him discover the projects in Harlem, mere minutes away from the cushty confines of his campus and see the multitudes of the lived black experience in New York. We see him in an inter-racial relationship, as he questions his own identity and see his relationship (or lack thereof) with his father.


Gandhi keeps this film understated, because not much happens but we see the melting pot of experiences that would have influenced Barry’s view at this pivotal age and how he views American society, ultimately shaping his views when he moved into Washington. Although scripted in the 80’s, the questions the film raises about identity are timeless, whilst the racial and class divides across American metropolitan cities are ever present, making this movie more than just a biopic. It provides a lens on societal issues many Americans themselves may face. Whilst it ends on a sombre note, Barry is ultimately filled with the one thing that his presidency was built on: hope, leaving the viewer with the same sentiment.


Director: Vikram Gandhi

Starring: Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Mitchell, Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman



1. Southside With You

2016, 1hr 20mins

Perhaps the most feel good, TV movie-esque film on this list. Here we get to see the beautiful, smart power couple in all their glory, as Barack is being mentored by Michelle at the Chicago law firm where they met. We get to see Michelle’s intellect, her family life, her sheer hard work and determination, as well as a grown up Barack filled with confidence, swagger and glimmerings of his diplomacy skills in nuanced situations.


Parker provides an uncanny resemblance to the president which transports you further into 1989 as we get to be a fly on the wall of their first date as they discuss their family backgrounds and politics. This is ultimately a romance, but one in which we see the condensation of years of conversations between the future president and first lady as they discuss race riots and racist treatment at the Ivy Leagues. These two are idealists at heart that are determined to change the world, so it serves as the beautifully romantic prologue of them accomplishing this in real life.


Director: Richard Tanne

Starring: Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter, Vanessa Bell Calloway

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