I saw a netflix produced movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival(TIFF) on netflix the other night. It was one of my most profound movie experiences of the year, movies to me are like people. Each has value and is important for different reasons and at different times, its impact changes over the years and so it is important for me when I make a connection with a movie. The story of Barack Obama’s first days in college may seem like a boring premise and trust me I thought it was as my brother and I put it up to watch for our meal time tv watching. It began slow with Barack(Barry as he asked to be called and which I will call him for the rest of the article) getting to his flat at a time when there was no one to answer the door. He goes to the campus that night to see what it looked like, and he attempted in almost biblical sense to claim this land as his as far as he could walk. He plays basketball with a group of locals on a court with no net, this scrawny black man is good at basketball(as we now know) but is not given much of a chance as he reads the invisible man on the bench of the court while awaiting the end of the current game. I realise at this point that I’m giving a lot away so I’ll stop with the spoilers and just go into my thoughts on the movie
I found myself watching with rapt attention as someone asked him where he was from to which He replied “Indonesia, Hawaii, Kenya, take your pick”. I saw me in Barry and I felt a kinship with this unattainable figure of contemporary history, he had an identity crisis similar to what happened to me in the past year. He gave me a new answer to Where are you from? I hadn’t expected this but it was welcome. Barry narrated how he had gone to a black student group and he felt like he didn’t fit in, he literally went to a party in the projects and could not find any connection. I’d been alone twice on cultural carnival day in my former university, a native English speaker I was useless to them all as I had no other tongue to impress them with. Both my mother’s ethnic group and my father’s state group left me out of their proceedings and it could not more accurately summate how I feel like the movie touched me.
An activist is born?
When faced with the wider world, the vastness with all its issues and troubles and social constructs, one can subsist or revolt. Barry did neither but he had an edge to him similar to someone in a hippy phase of adolescence. Ridiculing the institution of marriage, the farcical nature of politics (particularly taking a jab at an actor turned president), the nature of racial relations (on both sides). There was a scene where he took his white girlfriend through a part of town he’d been to and enjoyed, it starts out great with him purchasing a book for free as a result of her presence. His mood shifts as he notices the eyes on him, darting in his general direction all laser like, then he sees some pan-zionist people he had come across before who appropriated scripture to the effect of white women being literal bitches. He grabs her hand and takes her away from the neighbourhood so that he doesn’t have to get into trouble(like a previous naysayer has been dismayed).
Truth in love
I still don’t understand love but this movie presented another lens for me to observe and learn from. Various scenes of ‘boxer sex’ and relationship drama helped develop the love interest and give me insight into what love might be. I think the movie did well with some of the early relationshipy stuff where they fall in love through an epileptic ravey flash of 80’s b-boying. The meeting of Barry’s mom who is essentially an older version of the lady for thanksgiving was really done well, it was able to show me that barry did not necessarily like his dad, that he felt his mother was abandoned, that his mother was really hardworking, that his mother was his mother no-matter what i.e they were close and that her character was not putdownable. He meets her parents twice each time wary of what they might think and say but the scene with the multi-racial couple who were guests at their daughter’s wedding was simply beautiful. I’d asked strangers for advice before and I know how I felt when there was no time to judge you or size you up but just to have an honest human moment with a stranger who seemingly saw what you could not see at the time.
Worth the time?
The movie runs for about 1h 44 mins which I honestly did not feel, it never once bored me but thrilled me all the way through. Some scenes of symmetry also helped to show growth, same location but different experience by changing one factor. Scenes play out in this really beautiful way and there is a lot of heart that was put into the making of the movie and I applaud the effort expended on the making of the movie. It is definitely worth every second its on screen but the 80’s music and references flew over my head.