For the second time this year we’re diving into the early life of President Barack Obama. Where the earlier Southside With You was focused on one day, the day he met his future wife Michelle, the new movie Barry goes even earlier than that. Now we’re looking at his days as a college student at Columbia University, days when he was still on his own and trying to figure out who he was and who he was going to be.
That’s the core of the movie’s story, identity. A young Barry (Devon Terrell) is pulled in several different directions by various factors around and within him and he’s trying to either reconcile them or find one that feels right for him. Again, we know how this story ends but the movie is about the journey we may not be as familiar with, the days before he was Senator or President.
The one-sheet for the movie is pretty simple, just showing Terrell as Barry staring off-camera contemplatively, as if deep in thought. We get a short plot synopsis, with text stating “Before he was Barack, he was…” and then the title. It’s tagged as “A Netflix Original Film” and that’s about it.
There’s not too much going on in the first teaser. Mostly it features Obama walking into rooms, around parks and elsewhere, with the camera behind him showing the back of his head. Title cards pop up telling us this is before he inspired change and other accomplishments.
It’s a decent trailer, setting up that this is kind of an origin story that has a fairly broad focus. Love the music, mostly.
The full trailer offers more insights into the story. The Obama that’s on display here is one that’s very much searching for his identity. He’s not sure who he is or what he’s supposed to be doing. We see him dating a woman who’s not Michelle, which helps establish the time period, going to college classes and so on, all while questioning his role in the world. We see a few moments that will shape his perspective, from moments of wondering who he is with friends to a confrontation with a security guard that’s clearly because he’s black.
It’s pretty powerful, establishing that this is a story about identity and one’s place in the world. Like Southside With Me earlier this year, we know how this story ends but the promise here is that we get to see some foundational moments in the life of a future President. There’s a relentless focus on that “who am I?” theme that is meant to provide tension with the knowledge we already have, but the trailer still works for the most part.
Online and Social
There’s not much in the way of an online presence for the movie, which isn’t surprising for Netflix releases. There’s a page on the site for Black Bear Pictures, the production company that made it and some support was also provided on the Black Bear social channels. Netflix did likewise, though not to the extent it’s been promoting Fuller House and other shows it’s produced. There’s a lingering Twitter account specifically for the movie but it hasn’t been updated since September, with an update about Netflix buying it out of TIFF, so it presumably was run by Black Bear who was then told to let it wither.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing much here that I’ve come across.
Media and Publicity
While at the Toronto International Film Festival where the movie debuted, director Vikram Ghandi talked about being the second movie about a young up-and-coming Obama to get press this year and more. The movie was picked up by Netflix pretty quickly out of the festival.
There’s no getting around the fact that Barry is working at a disadvantage, that of being the second “Young Obama” movie to come out inside of a calendar year. But it doesn’t seem to suffer disproportionately from that, instead presenting a movie that should be of additional interest to those who saw – or plan to see – Southside With You.
The story that’s on display here is one that would likely be compelling regardless of the actual subject matter. Meaning it’s an interesting story of race, identity and worldly expectations that works even if it’s not about Obama. His presence just adds a layer of complexity to what we’re watching that brings with it some real world significance as we see a future president’s formative years.