A Netflix film, Barry gives a detailed account of a young Barack Obama’s outlook on prejudice and racism prevalent in the United States back when he was in college. Even before he became the President of the United States, Obama is shown as an intelligent young boy who has the makings of a great human.
Vikram Gandhi’s Barry kicks off with Obama lighting a cigarette in a flight as he reads a letter from his estranged father. Over the course of the film, we experience the detachment between the father and son as Barry struggles to write a reply to his father. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was a senior governmental economist in Kenya at the time.
Australian actor Devon Terrell channels a very convincing younger version of the US President. Terrell extensively studied Obama’s accent and mimicked his voice to prepare for the role. Given that Obama is left-handed, Terrell, who is right-handed, practised his writing to ensure that everything was factually correct in the character’s mannerisms. Other members of the cast including Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Mitchell, Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman, Ellar Coltrane also did a stellar job in supporting the story of Barry.
Barry is quite naturally depicted as an agitated and aggressive reflection of the man we know today. As he steps foot into New York City, he is deemed invisible, however, it is contrasted with the fact that being a black man in 1981, he was very much on display. When he enters Columbia University, where he had just joined, the guard demands an ID and kicks him out for not having one when Barry’s other white classmates fit right in.
Throughout the course of the film, Barry struggles to find a fitting title for himself; Hawaiian, Kenyan, American. He was all but he felt like none. Being a half-black-half-white man, his “privilege” resulted in him feeling like an outcast among Blacks. Barry continually asks himself the question of who he is. He tiptoes on the cusp of the social circles which makes the character quite relatable, even in his immaturity.
His doubts and apprehensions cause a rift between him and his then-girlfriend, a white girl named Charlotte Baughman. Whether it is Barry spending time with his girlfriend’s parents or, him taking Charlotte to a restaurant full of African-Americans, Barry can’t help but feel like an outsider with her more than he does when he is alone. Apart from the obvious, there are subtle signs of a divisive society conveyed through the film in the form of stares, arguments, and ideas.
As troubles continue to pile up, Barry feels more lost than ever until, when in the end, he finds a label befitting to his being; “American”. As he comes to terms with his identity, one too feels at ease. Barry is a smart, well-executed attempt and is definitely a film you should invest yourselves in.