The Way I See It

Posted on September 18, 2020 at 11:01 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Historical events, including military action and school and church shootings
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 18, 2020

Copyright 2020 Jaywalker Films
Pete Souza proves and exemplifies two perennial adages: If a picture is worth a thousand words, the photographs of Pete Souza, are as eloquent as a whole library. And if journalism is the first draft of history, Souza not only reminds us of how much of our sense of events is formed by images like his, and in his new documentary, “The Way I See It,” like the photographs he took, reward a deeper look.

Pete Souza tells us he served as White House photographer to the most iconic Republican President, Ronald Reagan, and the most iconic Democratic President, Barack Obama, and that his inspiration was the work of his predecessors, including Cecil William Stoughton, John F. Kennedy’s photographer, and Yoichi Okamoto, who was Lyndon Johnson’s photographer. We see how revealing the photographs are, not just the images themselves but the way they reflect the Presidents, their personal style, their sense of history, their era, and what today we might call their brand. Presidents Reagan and Obama might both be iconic, but their approach to the photographs was very different. Reagan, coming from Hollywood, was acutely aware of image and messaging. In behind-the-scenes archival footage we see him with Nancy, coming up with what he thinks will be an appealing pose.

Obama, on the other hand, was more interested in an authentic portrait to bring Americans into his life. The one time he wanted to make sure a moment was captured for posterity was a very personal one; a successful block in a one-on-one basketball game with Reggie Love, his body man and friend, who was bigger and more experienced but not as competitive. Obama not only wanted a “jumbo” (the constantly updated photos selected for display through the White House); he wanted a signed admission from Love.

Souza did not think of himself as political, especially during his first stint at the White House. But after President Trump took office, Souza began responding to his most provocative tweets via Instagram posts from his archive of Obama images. He thus learned for the first time the term “throwing shade,” an understated but devastating counterpoint. His pictures took on a whole new meaning, leading to a book called Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents. A telling example is the well-known image of Obama and his advisors, including Hillary Clinton, in the situation room during the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout. The are all looking intently and with their full attention at the screen so they will not miss a second. The image Trump released from his situation room is posed, with him and his advisors facing the camera.

We hear from Obama-era advisors and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin but this is really Souza’s story, especially when we get to Obama’s pushing him to propose to his long-time girlfriend. “He wants everyone to be married,” Souza says, clearly reflecting on the warmth of the Obamas’ own relationship. Finally, the President made Souza an offer he could not refuse: a wedding in the Rose Garden, with Obama himself as an officiant. He does not say so, but he’s probably wishing he could have been the photographer as well as the groom.

This is a moving story of what it is like to be in the room where it happens, and to share that with the people who entrust the President with our lives and our freedom.

Parents should know that this film includes depiction of real-life tragedies, including school shootings and military actions.

Family discussion: What do we learn about each President’s personality and priorities in the photographs of the White House photographer? Did this movie change your mind about any of the Presidents it covered?

If you like this, try: Souza’s books

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Documentary movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Politics

White House Mannequin Challenge with Diana Ross, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Robert De Niro, My Mom, and Me!

Posted on November 23, 2016 at 8:39 am

Yesterday, my family was at the White House to see my dad get the Medal of Freedom. Tracee Ellis Ross decided that while we were waiting before the ceremony, we should do a #mannequinchallenge. I was trying to film it, and ended up being in it myself! You can see Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Bill Gates, Robert De Niro, Diana Ross, Ellen DeGeneres, and my mother (with the glasses) and me (at the end)!

Check out the ceremony, especially the President’s opening remarks, and enjoy his gracious, thoughtful, wise, and hilarious comments on the awardees. And just be grateful for the extraordinary generosity, devotion, and contributions of these 21 people receiving our nation’s highest honor.

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Features & Top 10s

My Dad Is Getting the Medal of Freedom!

Posted on November 18, 2016 at 9:43 pm

The nation’s highest civilian honor is the Medal of Freedom, and the White House has announced that my dad will be receiving it this Tuesday.

Here is a brief interview with my dad, from the local CBS affiliate in Chicago.

https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2016/11/18/newton-minow-asked-is-tv-still-a-vast-wasteland/

And here is what he wrote about the Obamas’ first date.

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Not specified

My Dad on the Real Story of the Obamas’ First Date

Posted on September 9, 2016 at 10:51 pm

My parents, Newton and Josephine Minow, saw Southside With You, and so my dad wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the real story behind the scene in the film where Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson run into a senior lawyer and his wife, characters based on my parents. Barack Obama was working as a summer intern in my dad’s office at Sidley Austin in Chicago, recommended by my sister Martha, his professor. The firm assigned Michelle Robinson to be his supervisor.

My wife Jo and I went to the theater at Water Tower Place in Chicago to see the Spike Lee movie, “Do the Right Thing.” We walked into the theater and saw Barack and Michelle buying popcorn at the concession stand. It was their first date.

They were startled and embarrassed, because she did not want anyone in the office to know they were seeing each other outside of work. They thought a supervisor should not be dating a summer associate. Jo and I reassured them that there was no problem, and we went in together to watch the film.

They became friends and Dad goes on to talk about an important conversation he had with then-Senator Obama in 2006.

In 2006, I wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune urging him to run for president. I said he combined a first-class temperament with a first-class intellect. Later that year, he asked to meet with me and with my lifelong friend, the late Abner Mikva, because he was deciding whether he was ready — and he country was ready — for him to run. His most important question was whether Ab and I, each the father of three spectacular daughters, thought he could be a good father if he campaigned and was elected president. We told him he would see more of his daughters as President than he did as a senator, and I thought of that conversation many times as I read about the Obamas’ nightly family dinners in the White House.

My best memories of my childhood include the family dinners at our house and I am very touched that Barack Obama understood that my dad could guide him on parenting as well as politics.

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The Real Story

Southside With You

Posted on August 25, 2016 at 5:22 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, reference to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 26, 2016
Date Released to DVD: December 12, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01LTHMFPK
Copyright 2016 Miramax
Copyright 2016 Miramax

People who make movies know that we are eager to see couples falling in love. If they throw in a chirpy pop song over a montage of the highly attractive pair walking on the beach and laughing together at a street fair, we are happy to believe that they are in love and we can move on to the (short-term) complication before the happy ending.

“Southside With You” is a rare movie that shows us what it is really like to fall in love, over the course of an all-day first date. It would still be utterly witty, charming, and captivating even if it was not based on the real-life beginning of the romance of Barack and Michelle Obama. The historical context is primarily significant because we start off with information the characters do not have. We know what they will do and who they will become. But it also is especially meaningful as we come to the end of the Obama administration, and only the most partisan opponents can fail to appreciate their graciousness, elegance, and family values — and the true partnership and romantic spark that is evident in their relationship.

We begin with the amusing contrast of their preparations for the date. Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter, who also co-produced) is put together so meticulously that her father (Phillip Edward Van Lear) teases her: “Can’t you at least run a comb through your hair?” She insists to her parents, as she will to Barack, that this is not a date. She is just accompanying the law student she has been assigned to supervise for the summer to a community meeting.

Then there is a glimpse of his “preparation” for the date — smoking and reading a book. And losing track of the time. “You’re late,” she says when he arrives at her home. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.” She points out that she is his supervisor and she has noticed his lateness at work as well. She also notices, but does not mention, that the floorboard of his car is rusted through. One of the pleasures of this film is listening in as two extremely intelligent people uncertain about where they are going but certain they want to improve the lives of the people in their communities, getting to know one another through a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and above all honest conversation, especially as we see the growing pleasure each of them feels in finding someone who can both understand and challenge them.

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Their first stop is an art show. As they look at paintings by Ernie Barnes, Barack asks Michelle if she ever watched the television show, “Good Times.” She says the Robinsons were more of a “Dick van Dyke Show” family, and we can tell she is a bit defensive. Perhaps some of her Princeton classmates assumed that “Good Times,” set in the projects of Chicago, was based on families like hers. But then he tells her why he asked, and we can see her relax and start to appreciate his curiosity, depth, and knowledge. Despite all of her insistence that this is not a date, we can see her begin to get captivated. Each kindly, if not gently, pushes the other, she on his bitterness toward his father, he on her joining a corporate law firm rather than pursuing her goal of working for the community. Each bristles at first at being pushed, but then we see both of them genuinely grateful for being able to engage so honestly.

The talk is superbly written and performed. But some of the moments where nothing is said are just as moving, thanks to the performances of Sawyers and Sumpter, who do not impersonate the First Couple but give portrayals of great sensitivity and wisdom.

The POTUS and FLOTUS we see on television are more polished and self-assured than they were in their 20’s. Sawyers shows us a Barack Obama who was a long way from the understanding and forgiveness toward his absent father he would convey in his book. And yet, when he gets up in front of the community group, people who are disappointed after a setback and ready to give up, we see for the first time some of the cadences and mannerisms and ability to inspire that are so familiar to us now. Sumpter is lovely, with an exquisitely calibrated performance, first less, than more, then much less reserved. She is careful, and professional, and then we see her sense of fun and adventure when she gets up to dance with a group performing in a park. We we see how, despite her resolve, she cannot help being drawn to Barack.

This is a movie that understands that love is a conversation you never want to end, with someone who instinctively understands you and unreservedly supports you but who doesn’t let you get away with being less than you are capable of, someone who earns your absolute honesty. As we see them fall in love, dropping their defenses, allowing themselves to be hopeful, moving together toward a life of service, it renews our faith in love and purpose as well.

A PERSONAL NOTE: The First Couple met when they were both working in my dad’s office, and characters loosely inspired by my parents appear in this film. While I completely support the decision of writer/director Richard Tanne to create a scene with an interaction that is a bit awkward and uncomfortable, in real life my parents are far cooler (and more attractive!) than the characters in the film, and the interaction was warm and supportive. My parents and the Obamas became good friends.

Parents should know that this film includes smoking, brief strong language, drug reference, and some discussion of family dysfunction.

Family discussion: How did the difference in Barack’s and Michelle’s relationships to their parents affect their perspective? What did each of them say to change the other’s mind? What did Michelle learn about Barack at the community event?

If you like this, try: “Before Sunrise” and “Medicine for Melancholy”

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