US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The Obamas: How it all began

‘Southside with You’ tells the story of Michelle and Barack Obama's first date and plants the seeds for all that comes after.

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Article Culture

After seeing Barack and Michelle Obama in the public eye for the last eight years, it can be difficult to think of them as anything other than the President and the First Lady. In Southside with You, we get a glimpse of a fictionalized retelling of their first date in Chicago during the summer of 1989. 

At that point, both are working at a corporate law firm, with Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) the supervisor for summer intern Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers), who is back in town from Harvard Law. Barack has invited Michelle to join him at a community organizing event. Michelle, insistent that they are not on a date, is surprised and even a bit annoyed to learn the event won’t start for several hours.

The film takes us through the course of their day, relying on the curious conversation and small moments of two people getting to know each other to drive the action. They challenge each other, ask hard questions, and argue (including about whether they are, in fact, on a date or not). Sawyers bears a striking physical resemblance to Barack and also captures his charisma and confidence. Sumpter as Michelle exudes poise and class, very aware of how her identity as both a woman and a black American affects how people view and interact with her. 

What comes across at the end of the day is how much they respect each other. They realize their most important connection is that they both want to do more to help people and improve their communities. Does that mean politics? Maybe, Barack considers. 

The rest, as they say, is history, but the film plants the seeds for what is to come from these two—both as individuals and, eventually, as America’s highest-profile couple.

This article also appears in the November 2016 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 81, No. 11, page 40).

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Published: 
Monday, October 31, 2016