As U.S. President, Barack Obama’s presidency comes to a close, Netflix drops this Toronto International Film Festival 2016 premiered eye-opener into the early life of America’s first coloured president. Directed by Vikram Gandhi and starring young Devon Terrell as Barry (Barack Obama), Barry gives the viewer an inside glimpse into who Obama was before he began his path to politics.
With the concept of identity as its main foundation, this film explores the conflicts that a person’s pscyhe endures while trying to find out who he/she is. Springing from a mixed race union, Barry spends his early college years from 1981 – 1982 finding himself through the things he studies in class, his interest in sports, the people he surrounds himself with, and the things he reads. Among many relationships that stand to help shape Barry’s sense of self is his relationship with his father and how a lack of the same impacts the way he sees himself. In trying to find a way to communicate with his father, Barry must come to terms with the portions of his father he has inherited, and the bits of himself that are his mother. He must also decide which battles he chooses to pick in a country infested with racial prejudice. Barry must learn to pick out the pieces of his country that make him who he is and build on the ones he wishes to adopt to add to his current sense of self.
Terrell gives a strong performance as Barry as he navigates romantic relationships, friendships, cliques and familial connections. Barry struggles with asserting his varied upbringing in a country so quick to label based on one’s skin colour. He must prove himself time and again as a smart and educated man of mixed heritage with a familial and cultural background he is proud of. His internal struggle is beautifully captured through silent moments and carefully executed body language. Terrell has even mastered the President’s way of speaking to a T.
And while this film might leave you wanting a neatly-tied up ending, it does exactly what it set out to do in helping young Barry find his place in the world and develop a stronger sense of who he is. For an admirable performance by Devon Terrell and a well-thought-out thematic representation of self-identity, this film gets a 4.5/5.0. If you do end up watching it, you are more than welcome to start a conversation in the comment section.
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