• Nate Adams

Review: 'The Way I See It' offers snapshot into Barack Obama's legacy


Courtesy of Focus Features

Having spent eight years working as the chief official White House photographer and existing as a fly on the wall, photo journalist Pete Souza knows a thing or two about Barack Obama’s presidency. Souza was literally in the room where it happened, given unlimited access and free reign to take snapshots of moments in history that nobody else could.

In the engaging documentary “The Way I See It,” Souza offers a slideshow of the most crucial moments that impacted Obama’s tenure in the White House; from the Affordable Care Act getting passed through Congress; to inside the situation room during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, and even coaching his daughter, Saha’s, basketball team which Souza claims was his favorite day as President. 


Filmmaker Drew Porter captures the poginancy and essences of Souza’s remarkable career - he was also the official photographer for Ronald Regan - in a passionate presentation that, coming four years into the divisive Trump administration, is extremely bittersweet. This is a charming documentary that wears its heart on its sleeve, where all the images are laid out in a time capsule-like quality. No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on (though, I doubt anyone who's a Trump supporter will seek this film out), “The Way I See It” is a snapshot of history worth commemorating. 


Author of the bestselling 2018 photo-book “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” which contrasts Donald Trump’s tweets against Obama’s somber and loving photographs, Souza became an overnight sensation when he started an Instagram page and would casually drop photos of the former president, trolling Trump, or, as the kids call it, throwing “shade.” For example, the now iconic image of the 44th President in the Oval Office, with the simple caption regarding the chamber’s old, pre-Trump curtains: “I like these drapes better than the new ones, don’t you?” sends a clear message. And that’s when Souza’s photo activism was born.


Porter unspools the film patiently, in segments cutting between Souza and his wife - who eventually got married in the Rose Garden with the 44th president as the officiator - his personal time with Obama, and to his years serving with Regan. While his time with the latter doesn’t take up a major chunk of the film, it signifies Souza’s apolitical roots, showcasing the inside scoop of working for one of the most iconic republican and democratic presidents of a given generation. 


But it’s the photographer's relationship with Obama that provides “The Way I See It” with the film’s beating heart. We learn the tricks and trade of his job, describing it as “sipping from a fire hose that never shuts off” in regards to keeping his finger on the camera and, the other, a Blackberry. Daily, he would get Obama’s schedule and have to adapt on the fly. When hosting a major event inside the Oval or, at The White House in general, each time Souza entered the room, everyone would freeze, because they knew once he entered, Obama couldn’t be far behind. 


But the catalogue of pictures that Souza amassed over his ambitious, 24/7, eight year commitment is nothing short of extraordinary. From Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, to his eventual exit in 2017. He managed to snag pics of nervous officials during the Bin Laden raid and was present when Obama shed tears after the Sandy Hook shooting.


The most emotional scene in the doc comes when Souza recounts Obama’s visit to Newtown, Connecticut, and his sincere, genuine, visits with the families who lost young children. One father details how Obama made a b-line for his wife, who just lost her six-year-old son in the massacre, and just wrapped her up in a big hug, comforting her, letting her cry into his chest. It’s a show of empathy and compassion severely missing from the current administration.


But it wasn't always about work, Souza had front row seats to Obama, the family man. Whether it was showering First Lady Michelle Obama with love, or playing with his daughters in the snow, Souza witnessed this family grow together. 


Where “The Way I See It” hits a slight roadblock, is how it can’t help but double down on what Trump can never become. Considering the entire documentary depicts a stark contrast to the 45th president’s admin, the inclusion of a last second “shade” at his mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic doesn’t land in conjunction with the rest of the pic, though, it’s only a minor stepback that doesn’t hinder the overall experience. I think we should all know by now that love will always trump hate and that a picture is worth a thousand words. 


Grade: B+


The Way I See It opens in select theaters on September 18th before its premiere on MSNBC in October. 


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