Film Shows a Young ‘Barry’ Obama in Indonesia, Fighting to Fit In

By Matt Loffman

May 21, 2010 12:15pm

From Sunlen Miller:

"Do you know where babies come from," a nine-year-old Barack Obama – then Barry Obama — asks his neighbor in Indonesia after the birth of his baby sister, Maya Soetoro.

This scene is acted out by Hasan Faruq Ali, an American-born 12-year-old actor, in “The Little Obama” – a movie premiering in Indonesia on June 17th, the week President Obama will visit Indonesia. Like Obama, Hasan was born to a black father and a white mother and bears a striking resemblance to the young Obama.

The movie – produced by Mutlivision Plus – tells the story of the future 44th President of the United States during 1970-1971 when Obama was nine-years-old, while he lived there briefly with his mother and his stepfather.  Many of the anecdotes – collected over a short month-long interview process with friends, neighbors, family, and classmates of a young Barry Obama by screenwriter and co-director Damien Dematra — show a boy who fought desperately to fit in.

“He wasn’t accepted well in the beginning. The mother was white, he was black. You know he just looks different,” Dematra said in a telephone interview with ABC News from Jakarta.

Dematra says that Obama was acutely aware he was different and was “always trying new things,” seeking to understand the culture in which he lived briefly. 

In one of the more controversial scenes in the movie, based on an anecdote told from a classmate – the future president dons a sarong during a Muslim prayer, in an attempt to relate to his Muslim friends.

“He was wearing one and well, he was trying to join them in the prayer,” Dematra says, “they were laughing at him.”

Dematra says he is still considering whether or not to include this scene in the final cut of the movie – as he does not want the message of the film to be political in any way.

Another anecdote – as recalled by the filmmaker’s interviews – a young Barry Obama went into a Catholic church with his friends.

“He used to come in front of the priest and you know try to get you know the bread, you know from the priest. But he cannot take it. …he was not baptized.”

These anecdotes, Dematra said, show the essence of the president and his character in his movie: desperately trying to understand the world and fit in, and not having a complete acceptance in any one place.

The movie – which is still being edited in time for next month’s premiere – brings a hopeful message, Dematra says.

“If children dream and believe in themselves they can do whatever they want. And being different is okay. That even though at first he had a very hard time with his friends, they came to accept him for being different in the end they love him so much.”

The filmmakers have been speaking with the US embassy about arranging a session for the president to see the movie while he is in Indonesia next month.

“We are hopeful because the families, classmates, and friends they want to sit together and watch the movie with him,” Dematra says, “That would be lovely.”

-Sunlen Miller

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