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Film Thu Jul 12 2012
In 2008, the fervor surrounding then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign reached epic levels; from grassroots stumping to "A-list" celebrity fundraisers, many people dove in, headfirst, some might argue, to be part of history in the making. With the 2012 election season upon us, for some, the fiery passion has seemingly waned, leaving many to wonder if the flames can be re-ignited this time out.
The Obama Effect, a feature film opening in theaters tomorrow, highlights the energy many felt during the 2008 election, including one man's obsessive journey with helping to get Obama elected. The film stars veteran stage and screen actor Charles S. Dutton, who was in Chicago yesterday to discuss the film.
Dutton, known for his work in Aliens 3, Secret Window and the critically-acclaimed television show, "Roc," and who also wrote and directed The Obama Effect, greeted excited fans at the Hyde Park Hair Salon, aka "The Official Barbershop of President Barack Obama," 5234 S. Blackstone, to talk about the making of the film and its relevance to the upcoming election. "The film is about not Obama, per se; it's really about a man who becomes so absolutely obsessed with getting Obama elected," said Dutton. "I classify the film as a satirical look at the 2008 election with all the polarization at the time, but with the euphoria, passion, and emotion of that moment."
For Dutton, the film's subject matter was especially important and it had to be done his way. "I could've pitched the idea to a studio and got it made but we decided not to do that because I didn't want a studio executive dictating to me what kind of film I could or couldn't do on the first black president," he said. "At the same token, we never reached out to the Obama campaign or the Obama cabinet because I didn't want to be dictated to on that side of the fence, either." As for any concerns at the White House about the film's portrayal of the president, Dutton guarantees a positive reflection. "They can rest assured that this film is not offensive to the president, it's not offensive to the office of the presidency and it's not offensive to America."
The Obama Effect also boasts a cast of veteran actors including Vanessa Bell Calloway and Glynn Turman, boxing great Zab Judah, who makes his acting debut (Floyd Mayweather was contacted but never returned Dutton's calls) and funnyman Katt Williams, who was brought in later to soften the film's tone. "At one point in 2009, we took a look at the first cut and I didn't like the movie," said Dutton. "I liked it, but the last third of it somehow turned into King Lear." On the decision to cast a comedic actor, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock were originally considered; however, he thought it would be an "audacious move" to hire Williams, instead. "He's brilliant in the film; he plays a staunch, black Republican and even that in itself is funny." As for the president himself, who only appears as an "alter ego in the main character's head," Obama impersonator and Chicago native Reginald Brown was cast. "I never wanted the audience to think it was really Obama. I never shot him frontal--always to the side--but he can mimic Obama's voice pretty good."
The "barbershop talk" atmosphere was perfect for Dutton's laid back, yet serious demeanor, and his civic-mindedness was evident as he stopped mid-lecture to greet and sign autographs for kids from the Chicago Youth Leadership Academy, a Chicago Police Department-based mentoring program for local teens.
As for The Obama Effect, Dutton recognizes the lackluster energy this time around; however, he is hopeful the film will help bring some of it back. "It's hard to re-do that kind of passion," he acknowledges, "because that comes around every other generation." And through the satire and other fun moments the film delivers, Dutton reminds Obama supporters about the road ahead. "It's a fun film, but it's a film that lets you know in the end, the rumble ain't over--this election is actually more important than 2008--2008 was history--this one is survival."
Charles S. Dutton photo courtesy of Charles Jackson.