On Monday 14th March I had the privilege of being at BAFTA’s lovely comfy seating about to watch a preview of Inside Obama’s White House (BBC 2 on Tuesday’s at 9pm). As an audience, we were invited to enjoy episode 2, Obamacare. The screening was followed by a Q+A with series producer Norma Percy, executive producers Paul Mitchell and Brian Lapping, and director/producer of episode 2 Sarah Wallis. And enjoy it I did!
Inside Obama’s White House is a four part series concentrating on important moments of Obama’s presidency: economy, healthcare, foreign policy etc. It reminded me of how Sir David Frost’s four interviews with President Richard Nixon focused on similar topics: foreign policy, Cambodia and Watergate. After the screening and watching episode 1 ‘100 Days’ last week, I quickly realised we were in similar territory, and if these documentaries continue as they mean to go on, they could be as historically influential and poignant as the Nixon interviews were.
What strikes me straight away about this documentary is the level of access the production team were able to receive, which in itself is extremely impressive! This included an interview with the President himself, which was the hardest part according to Series Producer Norma Perry- they were only allowed 40 minutes with him, amounting to a strict 10 minutes covering each topic.
With America in the world’s eye right now because of the presidential campaigns, the elections and Donald Trump being Donald Trump, there are a lot of political based documentaries and dramas crawling onto our screens e.g. Race for the White House, Scandal, House of Cards etc. But we live in a time where documentaries are popular and becoming more and more successful, particularly those that document and focus on America’s society. Most recently and famously Making a Murderer, a Netflix 10-part documentary series focusing on wrongly incarcerated sex offender Steven Avery, who, after his release, went on to also be the primary suspect in a murder case and tried to prove his innocence. Similarly, Inside Obama’s White House also has underlying subtlety about it; it highlights America’s society and all that is wrong with it’s political system.
Many believe, including the American gentleman who spoke up at the Q+A screening, that the election of Barack Obama marked the real end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. It was a turning point, that America had progressed and matured in terms of discrimination and was setting an example to other nations. He was to take over from President Bush who left the country knee deep in the war on terror and facing the worst economic crisis for decades. Episode 1, 100 Days, focuses on how Obama desperately tried to steer America out of the inevitable; the new Great Depression. Episode 2, Obamacare, focuses on how the President tries to fight for a healthcare reform, so that it is fairer and more favourable to all, as everyone has a right to healthcare. The tone of the series is factual, yet the edit includes moments where Obama is dismissed by many Americans. His political endeavours aside, the bottom line is, his years in office were difficult as he was still discriminated against for being a black man.
It’s with Obamacare we really see how the edit is used to include moments where Obama is undermined every chance given, particularly by the Republican party. They throw everything at him to stop this reform, yet we can see how determined and optimistic Obama is and gives it everything he has to make the reform happen, benefiting hundreds of thousands of Americans. Yet, it’s a bitter sweet victory. With the elections coming up, there is a chance a Republican could gain office. The options are looking like Donald Trump (shivers) or Ted Cruz (shivers), who are both supporters of the Tea Party protesting to undo the reform and Obama’s hard work.
All political talk aside, Inside Obama’s White House is powerful and definitely one to watch. As well as hard-hitting and enthralling, it also has a humorous tone, to reflect Obama’s nature that he is an easy-going man at heart. A favourite moment of mine is the recollection Frank Lutz has when Obama spotlights him during a talk at a Republican event: “if the President points you out and says your name, the only thing you do is try not to faint!”
Inside Obama’s White House was described as a “privilege” at BAFTA, which is correct. As a filmmaker, you only dream to document the most powerful man in the world, therefore this series was a privilege to create, and we as an audience are privileged to have a chance to witness these events and interviews in an intimate manner. The documentary is honest and true to Obama and his years in office and will join many in preserving America’s history. It’s absolutely fascinating and, indeed, a privilege to watch.