Last month BOSSIP had the opportunity to interview Dawn Porter, a phenomenally gifted documentary director whose work includes the highly acclaimed John Lewis documentary ‘Good Trouble,”Trapped,’ and ‘Gideon’s Army.’ Porter is doing press these days for the film ‘The Way I See It,’ which is based on White House photojournalist Pete Souza’s. The film is currently playing in select theaters, but it makes its television premiere on MSNBC this month on 10/16 at 10pm ET.
Pete Souza has 2.3 million followers on Instagram for very good reason. Since Obama left office Souza has done a beautiful job of using Instagram, as well as his books and his live show, to offer perspective when it comes to the way 44 governed. The humanity, the sensitivity, the inclusiveness, the grace, elegance, class, intelligence and sentimentality — all of it, that we’ve been missing since January 2017, it’s all on the screen, plain to see in ‘The Way You See It.’ Except you don’t see it plainly, you see it beautifully. Both Obama and Souza, as well as the work they’ve accomplished, shine brilliantly through this film. It’s exactly what moved Dawn Porter to her role, directing ‘The Way I See It.”
“The first time that I was able to see Pete’s photos, Pete came to California, he pulls out his laptop and he does this one man show,” Porter says. “It’s a very simple journey through his time at the White House and as he was talking, I started to cry. I think you don’t even realize how you’ve been holding your breath these past few years. How striking it is to see someone just thinking, just working hard, just not insulting people. All of that was emotional so the challenge of that for us was how do we communicate the power of those pictures that appears so simply when Pete does those shows. So we wanted to take it to that next level, go see some of those people that he interviewed, but also it’s a story of Pete’s change and how he went from a person who was an observer, to a person that’s vocal. That was another piece that I wanted to add. He spent his whole career being quiet and now he’s being compelled to break that silence.”
The film, is largely focused on Pete’s experience, not just as Obama’s White House photographer, but also his journey to becoming a photojournalist, bits of his childhood, his early career and his time working as a White House photographer for Ronald Reagan. His experience in the Obama White House does constitute a large part of the documentary however, and it’s clear that that experience was a transformative one. Enough so that Souza, in the face of the racism, misogyny and brutishness that has cast a shadow over the current administration, did what only he could do — remind us that things don’t have to be this way. He has the photo evidence that proves as much.
For those of us who are tired of seeing 45 on screen, at press conferences or otherwise, this film also shows enormous restraint by barely using any images of the current President.
“The first effort was to have no images [of him],” Porter tells BOSSIP. “We were trying really hard to do that actually.”
Porter further explains that she wanted ‘The Way I See It’ to be about the resistance, so she and her team chose not to lose focus by looking too hard at the current White House.
“I wanted this film to be about what can be,” Porter says. “Really what happened was, along the way, the grievances, the activities of the current administrations were so abhorrent, that we really needed to bring in what was happening to put an even finer point on what we’ve lost.”
“Knowing when it was going to be released, you want your movies to be evergreen but I don’t think anyone is going to forget this administration for a generation so we were kind of like we don’t need to give air, we want to highlight the resistance, so that’s what this movie is. It’s about where we’re going back to.”
Besides staying as far away from the dark side as possible, ‘The Way I See It,’ is the kind of film that will touch people because it offers an intimate look at the Obama White House through some of it’s most humble public servants. Besides sharing Souza’s work and voice, the documentary includes interviews with Obama White House staffers who have some of the best stories about President Obama that most of us have never heard before.
“I always like interviewing the people who are in the not-fancy-pants jobs, so interviewing his personal assistant Ferial [Govashiri], I just really loved how she really focuses on President Obama’s humanity and the personal toll that the job of the Presidency can take,” Porter tells BOSSIP. “Like the fact that she says President Obama pushes everyone to get married. That’s not something that I know about Barack Obama.”
We won’t give too much away but there are a few love stories embedded within this “political” documentary. Also the film reminds us how much was accomplished during Obama’s presidency — history was made, over and over again, in positive ways.
“To see, not to put too fine a point on it, that this non-black man [Souza] saw up close and personal their love story, their family strength,” Porter says of Souza’s documentation. “So many Black people we are trying so hard to be seen and there was something so interesting to me about that dynamic. That here it was this white (of Portuguese descent), this non-black person with a lens on this black family. When Pete says, and he gets choked up, what it meant for Black people to see Barack Obama in the office and that he felt that. It was so remarkable that you couldn’t help but feel the emotion and he would see it over and over and over. If you were a black person you would get it right away, but for him to be outside of that ethnic group appreciate that, I found that very moving.”
We did too. We urge you to watch ‘The Way I See It’ when it airs on MSNBC 10/16 at 10pm — or go see it now, in select theaters.