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Quendrith Johnson is filmfestivals.com Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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A look-back on OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION from HBO

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

For many in America, the 2008 election seems like a lifetime ago, maybe even a different country ago. Since the 2016 election seems to have left an indelible mark on politicians and their constituency alike, perhaps a glance in the rear-view mirror of US politics is in order. Former President Barack Obama (b. 1961) turns 60 on Aug. 4, and HBO’s three-part documentary, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION, will debut Aug. 3, from 9 pm and 10:40 pm  ET/PT, with additional parts airing Weds. to mark the birthday, and on Thurs. This look-back chronicles a personal and political journey of President Barack Obama, as the country grapples with its racial history. Read on for more with HBO's official breakdowns of all three episodes in this series.

The future President in the back row at school with teacher, classmates - still from HBO doc.

Woven from conversations with colleagues, friends and critics, and interlaced with his own speeches and news interviews, the series begins with Obama’s childhood and takes us through his perspective. As a young man, he formed his own identity as son of a white mother from Kansas and an African father. The series marks his spiritual formation by a generation of Black leaders, culminating in his hopes for a more just and inclusive America.

1960's unrest and riots in United States - still from HBO doc.

Through the story of one man on track to become part of American history, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION reflects on the country’s past and present under-fire national identity.

The three-part documentary will debut on HBO and be available to stream on HBO Max.

First Look at the Look Back on How He Got There…

OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION is directed by Emmy® winner Peter Kunhardt (HBO’s “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality,” “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “King in the Wilderness”).

With the clarity and hindsight of the last four years, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION forms an overall focused picture of America under its first Black president. Obama’s presidency was undeniably unique in America’s history, but as a historic step forward for the country, it also exposed the dire need to address deeply entrenched challenges on the topics of race, racial justice, and accepted cultural/political history.

The series provides context, insight and critique from a wide range of participants including: author Jelani Cobb; Representative John Lewis; political consultant David Axelrod; Rev. Alvin Love; author Michael Eric Dyson; journalist Laura Washington; Rev. Jeremiah Wright; journalist Michele Norris; New Yorker editor David Remnick; Rev. Al Sharpton; professor Cornel West; politician Jesse Jackson; author Ta-Nehisi Coates; NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill; political advisor Valerie Jarrett; professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.; actor Keegan-Michael Key; former government official Shirley Sherrod; journalist David Maraniss; professor Ken Mack; speechwriter Jon Favreau; advisor Broderick Johnson; and Representative Bobby Rush.

Man of the people and a player early on - still from HBO doc.

Part One of OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION looks back on Obama’s upbringing by a single mother from Kansas and white grandparents, his early schooling in Hawaii and his education at Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Through archival interviews, Obama reflects on the impact of having an estranged African father, growing up bi-racial and his evolving relationship with the African American community in Chicago, where he worked with Black churches as a community organizer.

No easy answers to the changes facing America - still from HBO doc.

Part Two takes us from Obama’s presidential bid to his election to the White House in November 2008, exploring the obstacles and successes along the campaign trail. With constant pressure to define his identity along racial lines and frustrated by what he saw as a distraction from other important issues, Obama delivers his “race speech” of March 2008, a determined defense of the U.S. Constitution and a plea to look beyond America’s “racial stalemate” in order to advance prosperity and unity. 

Obama's Presidency was a family affair - still from HBO doc.

Part Three takes us to the White House years and the formidable hurdles that Obama faced trying to pass legislation in a bitterly divided Congress. He ultimately succeeded in passing the Affordable Care Act but the chasm across the aisle in Washington grew ever wider. As the nation faced a period of heightened awareness around police brutality towards African Americans and the fervent partisan battle over gun control, his critics accused him and the administration of not doing enough to lead a conversation about race, and the president moves forward with policies that focus on racial justice and empowerment.

OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION unpacks the man and the president, unfolds his vision for the nation shaped from private experiences and the formation of personal identity. Through today’s POV, the documentary looks back on the Obama administration with fresh insights about the stark obstacles he faced and the challenge to pursue equality in America.

The US White House, a new tenant, a new era, a new President - still from HBO doc.

HBO Documentary Films’ presents a Kunhardt Films Production, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION directed by Peter Kunhardt; produced by George Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt, Matthew O. Henderson; edited and produced by Maya Mumma, ACE; executive producers, Peter Kunhardt;  Andi Bernstein  and  Mona Sutphen; Jelani Cobb  and Jacqueline Glover. For HBO: senior producer, Sara Rodriguez; executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.

RECAP:

THREE-PART DOCUMENTARY, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION, CHRONICLES A PRESIDENT’S JOURNEY AND THE CHALLENGE TO BUILD A MORE INCLUSIVE AMERICA, DEBUTS AUGUST 3.

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

LA Correspondent for filmfestivals.com


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