“Southside with You” reveals a different side to the Obamas


Image: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

“Southside with You” offers a glimpse into Barack and Michelle Obama’s lives before they were the President and First Lady of the United States.

Vanessa Alva, Contributing Writer

“Southside with You” showcased why the Obamas are the real “relationship goals.”

Writer and director Richard Tanne follows the first date between Michelle Robinson, played by Tika Sumpter, and Barack Obama, played by Parker Sawyers. The movie’s music and pop culture really takes the viewers back to the summer of 1989.

Instead of seeing them as the President and First Lady of the United States, we see Robinson as a thriving second-year associate and Obama as a summer associate at the same Chicago corporate law firm. The two spend a romantic afternoon together — which was intended to be work-related.

We do not see Obama in a black SUV with secret service. We see him in his used yellow Datsun with a huge hole in the floorboard. Instead of hearing him speak to hundreds of politicians, we see Obama giving a short inspirational speech to frustrated members of a Chicago community struggling with finances and violence.

“Southside with You” displays parts of the Obamas’ personalities that remain true to who they are now — for example, the dialogue stays loyal to Barack Obama’s humor and Michelle Obama’s humility and determination. The movie shows that even when the Obamas first started dating, they both supported each other and wanted to help each other grow.

Aside from the romance, the movie touches on racial and gender problems that are still prevalent today. Robinson is hesitant over the relationship because she is afraid of how her law firm, mainly made up of older white men, would view a young black woman beginning a relationship with a subordinate who is of the same ethnicity. The movie also focuses on Obama’s cultural background (yes, he was in fact born in the United States) and how he deals with being biracial.

Obama and Robinson’s cultural backgrounds and family relations are total opposites. Obama was born in Hawaii, mostly raised around the white side of the family since his dad lived in Kenya and did not keep in touch with him. Robinson was from the South Side of Chicago, where she lived with her close-knit working-class family.

Throughout the date, Obama tries to win Robinson over and convince her to date him. For this reason, I think his date plan is culturally-oriented because he wants to be able to connect with her. It seems that he is trying to impress Robinson by showing her that despite his background, he is still connected to Afrocentric culture. Toward the end of the date, Obama’s dating preferences are brought up and Robinson questions why he stopped dating white women. This shows that at this point in his life, Obama is trying to be more in touch with his African heritage.

Sawyer and Sumpter’s performances truly portray the progressive nature of the Obamas’ relationship. They do a particularly good job depicting the struggle between wanting to keep a professional relationship and recognizing their romantic chemistry. Throughout the 90-minute movie, we are able to see how the Obamas grow more comfortable with each other by recognizing that they have a common goal: to make a real impact.

Regardless of political views, this is a touching movie that shows the difficulty of attempting to be in a relationship in which both partners are strong-minded and goal-oriented.