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Southside with You tells the story of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson’s first date, a half-day stroll through Chicago in 1989. The future president and first lady visit an art museum, picnic in a park, attend a community meeting, and catch an evening showing of Do the Right Thing. (A scene from Spike Lee’s film in which a white police officer chokes a black teenager to death along with brief strong language give Southside with You its PG-13 rating.) Director Richard Tanne, who did not interview the Obamas but based the film on public sources, claims “the trajectory of the date is about 90 percent accurate.”
It’s a sweet little film (just 75 minutes long), but could have been about any two people testing the waters of their relationship. Southside with You reveals the couple’s favorite ice cream flavors but, to my disappointment, doesn’t remotely hint at what eventually compelled the faithfully wedded man and woman and devoted parents to champion same-sex marriage and legal abortion.
Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter) do divulge much about their families’ histories, with one notable omission: She asks him almost everything about his upbringing except his birthplace. Oh well.
In all, viewers gain insight only into how the couple reached this moment in their lives, where she’s a second-year associate and he’s a summer intern at a major Chicago law firm. She’s actually his adviser and initially resists calling their outing a “date.”
Still, it’s easy to see why Michelle—and eventually a majority of the American electorate—fell for Barack Obama. Except for his cigarette habit, the film finds no fault in him. Affable, witty, and cool under pressure, Obama seems to be the same man today that he was the night he realized he’d met the love of his life.