A Date With Obama


Photo: Matt Dinerstein

From writer and director Richard Tanne, Southside With You takes a look at the president and his first lady from an unexplored angle, as two lawyers on their first date. The film, produced by John Legend, premiered earlier this year at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival to positive reviews from critics and is scheduled to be released in major North American theaters on August 26.  Tasted like chocolate

In 1989, a young Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) takes a summer job as an associate at a Chicago law firm under the supervision of his advisor Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). The persistent Obama manages to convince Robinson to spend a day exploring Chicago’s South Side with him, though she remains indifferent to his romantic advances. The film follows the two as they enjoy lunch at the Art Institute of Chicago, view a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and share a kiss on the curb outside of a Baskin-Robbins.

In preparation for their larger-than-life roles, little-known actors Tika Sumpter (from television series Gossip Girl and 2014 comedy Ride Along) and Parker Sawyers looked to immerse themselves in the lives of their characters. Sumpter employed a dialect coach to perfect Michelle’s speech pattern while Sawyers pored over videos of Obama in his most sincere moments. Both Sawyers and Sumpter read anything that had a personal influence on the couple at the time, including poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

“I’m nervous because she’s Michelle Obama, who is everything every woman wants to be,” revealed Tika Sumpter. “I’m just enveloping in everything I think she probably would have read.”

Her co-star Parker Sawyers feels similarly humbled by his role, saying, “I’d honestly be honored for [Obama] to see anything I’ve done, let alone me playing him.” As of yet, however, Barack and Michelle Obama have not seen the film, though they are aware of it.

DanceRobert Tanne stresses that the film is a fictionalized account, as the plot was constructed primarily from public articles, interviews, and videos, though he believes it to be “90% accurate.” Regardless of its authenticity, the film holds its merit as a tale of romance.

“It answers the age-old question at any dinner party: How did you meet? What was your first date like?” proclaims Sumpter. “Who doesn’t relate to love?”

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