Sundance Film Review: 'Southside With You'


The movie Southside With You premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend. It tells the story of the first date between Barack Obama (Parker Sawyer) and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) as they strolled around the south side of Chicago in 1989. Unfortunately it makes some creative decisions that are very problematic for a movie, let alone a real couple.

Michelle insists she does not want to date a colleague. They work in the same law office. If this were a fictional couple, you may be able to show her have a change of heart. It would still be a problematic message because colleagues have to respect each other's boundaries, even in the Wild West of 1989 offices. But the fact that we already know they got married makes Barack a predator to begin with. He is determined to ignore her boundaries. Fortunately, I don't believe that part is true. It is dramatic license and poorly thought out fiction.

Aside from thematic problems, the dialogue itself is boring first date banter. Barack and Michelle aren't really sharing philosophies like the characters in a Richard Linklater movie would. They are just interviewing each other and answering questions about their past. Even when Michelle talks about fathers, it's only to inform Barack's specific resentment, not a more universal big picture.

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A supposedly true part of the story is that the couple went to see Do the Right Thing, a hot button movie at the time. I hope the birthers demanded to see Obama's ticket stub to prove he really saw it in 1989. It is relevant that he explains the ending to a white person, and further that he later offers a second interpretation. That's how Barack endeared himself to different constituencies.

The one effective scene is when Barack speaks at a community meeting. We see in action how he changes the community's frustrations into positive actionable solutions. That is an ability that his detractors still underestimate and it's a good example, regardless of politics.

The Obama's were not involved with this movie. If they ever see it I imagine they would be gracious and express gratitude to the filmmakers and actors for telling their story. They have better things to do then focus on the details. I say, when Southside With You makes it to theaters, you should stay away.