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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Based on a true story Date movie DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Race and Diversity Romance

Trailer: The Obama’s First Date in “Southside With You”

Posted on June 10, 2016 at 8:00 am

When Barack Obama took a summer job at a Chicago law firm after his first year of law school, a recent Harvard Law School graduate named Michelle Robinson was assigned to be his supervisor. He asked her to come with him to a community meeting and she agreed, insisting that it was not a date. But by the end of the day, they saw Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and shared ice cream — and a kiss. “Southside With You” is the story of that date, opening in August.

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Based on a true story Romance Trailers, Previews, and Clips

First Lady Visits iCarly

Posted on January 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Entertainment Weekly reports that as a part of her Joining Forces program to support the US military troops and their families, First Lady Michelle Obama will make an appearance on the Nickelodeon television program iCarly.  Miranda Cosgrove (“School of Rock”) plays a girl whose father is a U.S. Air Force officer stationed on a submarine.

Carly’s friends set up a webcast so Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) can communicate with him at a military base. With a few Secret Service agents in tow (including one played by… Saturday Night Live’s Taran Killam!), Mrs. Obama surprises Carly and Co. to commend them for supporting military families (as part ofthe First Lady’s Joining Forces initiative). The kids invite her to appear on iCarly, and not only does she oblige, she even engages in some random dancing.

The Entertainment Weekly site has a clip of Mrs. Obama’s appearance on the show, which will be broadcast January 16 at 8/7 central.

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Television

Mother’s Day Tribute to Military Families on the Hallmark Channel

Posted on May 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Martha Stewart is joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for a special Mother’s Day salute to military families on the Hallmark channel.   Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden share their thoughts on motherhood with Martha and talk about their “Joining Forces” initiative, which supports America’s military wives and mothers.   They will share their own experiences — Dr. Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden has a son in the military herself — talk about coping with the stress of long separations and worry, and host the world’s biggest baby shower for military moms-to-be.

 

 


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Television
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