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'Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union' Review: Strong messages reach an audience already on board

A smart, in-depth docu-series that won't reach much further than folks who are already on board with the "Yes We Can!" movement.

Barack Obama in the oval office.
(Image: © HBO Max)

Our Verdict

'Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union' highlights the political career of what will likely be the greatest president of our time. But the story it's sharing won't reach much farther than those who already believe in his ideology.

For

  • 🇺🇸 Reminds viewers of the hope they felt when Obama was in office.
  • 🇺🇸 A detailed look at the challenges he faced while running for office both locally and nationally.
  • 🇺🇸 Appropriate call-outs from activists like Bobby Rush and highlights of early concerns from people like rep. John Lewis.

Against

  • 🇺🇸 The length of this ostracizes the demographic it should be trying hardest to reach. Anyone sitting through the combined 5 hours of material is already on board with this hope-y change-y thing.

Barack Obama is likely the greatest president of our time. He has many flaws, whether it be his struggles with the Black community or the choices he made as commander in chief that likely still keep him up at night today. But the fact that decisions like the drone strikes or his questionable immigration policies likely keep him up at night is what strongly contributes to that greatness. No president is going to make all the right choices, but they should be haunted by the hard ones. And through all the trials, tribulations, and constant political roadblocks there is absolutely no arguing one simple fact: Barack Obama is a good and kind family man who wants what's best for this country. 

Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union showcases that man. It starts in his early days, illustrating a mixed-race boy who didn't have any idea that he was an outsider until his family moved abroad. His first introduction to otherness was as an American, not a Black man, a fact that strongly contributes to his firm belief that he is an American first and a Black man second.

That belief would get him into some trouble throughout his political career. First when he challenged civil rights leader Bobby Rush to represent Illinois's 1st congressional district, and later in his early years as President of the United States. Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union spends a respectable amount of its runtime highlighting the concerns of Black voters, activists, and community leaders whether it be via the concerns that he wasn't "Black enough" or the justified complaints that he didn't focus enough on Black issues in his early years in the White House.

Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union's greatest accomplishment is finding the balance between revering the man who helped a nation believe in hope and change and his less-than-perfect track record with the Black communities who got him in office. It highlights the full story behind his connection with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the complicated response to Republican sabotage while giving a voice to those who were concerned in the beginning but came around.

It also features several interviews with Rep John Lewis which, full disclosure, I cried through every time. 

If Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union has a flaw, it's that it only speaks to those of us who are already on board with that pursuit. People like me, we've already bought into that hope-y change-y thing. We know that the only way to make a difference in this country is to vote (and to stop gerrymandering so others get a say, too). A documentary like this should be working to reach the base of people who believe in all of the same things Obama and his proxies do, but who feel like their voices and the change they hope for don't matter and can't be achieved. The detail of the story is engaging for me on a personal level, but five hours worth of narrative isn't going to resonate with those folks because it's not going to reach them. 

That key downfall aside, Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union is a strong reminder of hope in the face of one of the biggest risks to our democracy: apathy.

The HBO Max docu-series will be available to stream August 3rd, 2021.