Documentary shows Obama years through photographer’s lens

Pete Souza served as the official White House photographer for a pair of two-term presidents, one a Republican hero, Ronald Reagan, and a Democratic hero: Barack Obama.

The son of Portuguese emigres, a nurse and a boat mechanic, Souza earned his master’s degree at Kansas State University and got his start in photojournalism at newspapers in Chanute and Hutchinson.

His lavish account of the Obama years, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” became a best-seller, and Souza followed it up with “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.” The new documentary “The Way I See It” grew out of those two books, and Souza’s subsequent tours and speaking engagements on the subject of the approximately 2 million photos he took during the Obama years.

The movie, which played at theaters in some cities, airs at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, on MSNBC.

Once Donald Trump took office, Souza says in the documentary, he couldn’t ignore the man’s disrespect for the office, for the rule of law, for so many people around the world. He says he couldn’t remain neutral about anything political anymore. “This is not a partisan thing to me,” he says in director Dawn Porter’s portrait of the onetime fly on the wall turned visual activist. “It’s about the dignity of the office of the presidency.”

The results pack a serious emotional wallop if you miss the Obama era. And, probably, nothing of the sort if you don’t.

One of Pete Souza’s most famous photos shows Jacob Philadelphia, 5, the son of a White House staff member, touching President Barack Obama’s hair to see if it feels like his. PETE SOUZA White House

With a lot of input from Souza, Porter’s film tells the stories behind the photos. Many have become famous, profoundly moving emblems of one politician’s humanity, such as the 2009 image “Hair Like Mine.” You probably know it: It captures the moment when 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia touched the head of the president to see if Obama’s hair felt like his own.

Souza enjoyed an unprecedented degree of access to the inner workings, private meetings and unguarded moments of the Obama administration. His job under Reagan and, later, Obama, meant a constant if low-key push for more of that access. Trump shut all that down, confining White House photographers to a few canned photos.

“The Way I See It” introduces us to Souza’s family; his life, now in Madison, Wisconsin (he’s seen buying kale at the weekend farmers market by the capitol building, which is the most Madison thing imaginable); and generous excerpts from various public talks and presentations in the U.S. and abroad. Tour footage-dependent documentaries such as this one carry a built-in limitation; we get a sense of how the subject and the work operate in a friendly public sphere, but it’s sometimes at the expense of more difficult or ambiguous alleyways.

Pete Souza, shown at the White House in 2013, was the official photographer for Presidents Ronald Regan and Barack Obama. Charles Dharapak, File AP Photo
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Michelle Obama expresses empathy for White House staff ‘touched by this virus’ and urges Americans to vote.

The former first lady Michelle Obama, one of the Democratic Party’s most respected figures, delivered what the Biden campaign called her “closing argument” for Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s candidacy on Tuesday, speaking in deeply personal terms to Americans disillusioned by politics about the need to vote.

In a 24-minute video, Mrs. Obama appealed to parents and young people, white working-class Americans and people of color, lashing President Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus — “he continues to gaslight the American people by acting like this pandemic is not a real threat,” she said — and warning that Mr. Trump’s habit of stoking division could be an effective political tool. She urged voting as the best remedy.

“We can expect that this election will be won by the slimmest of margins, just like it was four years ago,” Mrs. Obama said. “A handful of votes per precinct in Pennsylvania, or Arizona, or Wisconsin, or Florida, or anywhere else will make all the difference.”

As she released the video on her own social media platforms, Mrs. Obama acknowledged Mr. Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis. She alluded to his decision to return to the White House while still receiving treatment for the virus, and the choice to take a drive outside of the hospital on Sunday, a move that some medical experts saw as dangerous for the Secret Service agents around the president.

“My heart goes out to everyone touched by this virus, from those at the White House, especially the Secret Service and residence staff whose service ought never be taken for granted, to all those names and stories most of us will unfortunately never know,” she wrote on Twitter.

In the video, Mrs. Obama appeared to speak implicitly to white voters who are struggling economically and are put off by terms like white privilege.

“It is frustrating to hear some folks say that you’ve been the beneficiary of privilege, that the color of your skin gives you a head start,” she said. “But right now, the president and his allies are trying to tap into that frustration and distract from his breathtaking failures by giving folks someone to blame other than them. They’re stoking fears about Black and brown Americans.”

That approach, she said, is “morally wrong, and yes, it is racist. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.”

“As a Black woman who has — like the overwhelming majority of people of color in this nation — done everything in my power to live a life of dignity, and service, and honesty, the knowledge that any of my fellow Americans is more afraid of me than the chaos we are living through right now, well, that hurts,” Mrs. Obama said.“Imagine how it feels to wake up every day and do your very best to uphold the values that this country claims to holds dear — truth, honor, decency — only to have those efforts met by scorn, not just by your fellow citizens, but by a sitting president.”

Mrs. Obama said on Twitter

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Obama departs White House en route to Allentown, Pennsylvania

Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs; David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to the President; Bill Burton, Deputy Press Secretary; and Cody Keenan, Speechwriter; (L to R) walk to Marine 1 on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington to accompany United States President Barack Obama to Allentown, Pennsylvania on December 4, 2009 to discuss jobs and the economy before returning late in the afternoon. UPI/Ron Sachs/POOL

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Obama steps into The Shade Room to urge ‘roommates’ to vote, says White House ‘working to keep people from voting’

Former President Obama knocked the Trump administration in a video released by The Shade Room this week, accusing the White House of working to “keep people from voting,” particularly those of color.

Barack Obama wearing a suit and tie: Obama steps into The Shade Room to urge 'roommates' to vote, says White House 'working to keep people from voting'

© The Shade Room
Obama steps into The Shade Room to urge ‘roommates’ to vote, says White House ‘working to keep people from voting’

Obama made the comments in a short advertisement urging people to vote early in the election that was released by the Shade Room, a Black-owned media company with a large social media following that covers celebrity and entertainment news.

Obama started off the video by addressing the “roommates,” the media company’s nickname for its readers, saying: “As you know the election is coming up and I’ve got just one word for you: vote. Actually I’ve got two: vote early.”

“Right now, from the White House on down, folks are working to keep people from voting, especially communities of color. That’s because there’s a lot at stake in this election. Not just our pandemic response or racial justice, but our democracy itself,” he said.

“So, it’s more important than ever to make your voice heard. We can’t leave anything to chance,” he continued, before going on to urge viewers to visit a website that allows them to check their voter registration status and look up nearby voting locations.

The video marks Obama’s latest show of support for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign in recent months and comes hours before his former vice president is set to face off in his first presidential debate against President Trump later on Tuesday.

In a Twitter video urging supporters to register to vote in the November race on National Voter Registration Day last week, Obama emphasized the stakes of the coming of election, saying: “What’s at stake in this election is much bigger than Joe or the man he’s running to replace.”

“What’s at stake is whether or not our democracy endures,” he continued in the clip, which doesn’t mention Trump by name. “And the folks in power are hoping that you will stay home. They’re hoping you get cynical.”

“They’re trying to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. It’s how they win. Don’t let them,” he added.

Video: Trump: No one in politics ‘has done more to hurt Black Americans than Joe Biden’ (NBC News)

Trump: No one in politics ‘has done more to hurt Black Americans than Joe Biden’



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Obama Says White House Trying ‘To Keep People From Voting’ in New Biden Campaign Ads

Barack Obama has claimed that the White House is “working to keep people from voting,” in one of two new adverts for the Joe Biden presidential campaign that encourage Black people to exercise their power at the ballot box.

The videos, the other featuring vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, will be featured on popular Black entertainment news sites The Shade Room and The Young, Black, and Fabulous. They ask Black voters to make a plan of where and when to vote.

“Hey, roommates, Barack Obama here. Yes, coming to you from The Shade Room. As you know the election is coming up and I’ve got just one word for you: vote,” the former president says.

“Actually, I’ve got two: vote early. Right now, from the White House on down, folks are working to keep people from voting, especially communities of color.”

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Obama moves on to say that this is “because there is a lot at stake in this election,” mentioning the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice and “our democracy itself.” He encourages those watching to make a plan to vote early and to tell friends and family to do the same.

The video with vice presidential nominee Harris also starts out with her introducing herself. She then says: “We are coming down to the wire in this election and we know it’s all on the line. Everything from women’s health to our jobs, from black businesses to the quality of our schools and our communities.”

“To make progress in all the ways that matter to us and the ones we love,” Harris says, “we must vote, and we must vote early.”

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She carries on to say that this year, it is “easier and more convenient to make your voice heard on your schedule,” encouraging those who are voting in person to pick a day to go to the polls.

If they are voting by mail, she asks you to get your ballot as soon as possible, either by mailing it in or handing it in person. Harris, like Obama, tells viewers to encourage their friends and family to make a plan to vote as well.

The Shade Room, an Instagram-focused platform founded by Angelica Nwandu in 2014, counts more than 20 million followers on the social media platform.

Meanwhile, the Young, Black and Fabulous website, focused on Black celebrity gossip, was started in 2005 by Natasha Eubanks.

Both platforms have also pivoted to covering racial justice and injustice issues as well as the upcoming election.

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll from June showed that 92 percent of Black registered voters supported Biden over President Donald Trump.

A more recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News between September 13 -16 found Biden leading Trump among Black voters by 90 percent to 5 percent.

Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama gives the eulogy at the funeral service for the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 30,
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Look back at Obama and Reagan through the eyes of their White House photographer

The new documentary The Way I See It looks at former presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan through the eyes of Pete Souza. During his time as an official White House photographer, Souza captured the profound, intimate, funny and dignified moments of two of the most iconic presidents in modern history. The Way I See It is directed by Dawn Porter, who also made the wonderful and inspiring documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Dawn Porter's new documentary, The Way I See It, looks at the presidencies of Barack Obama and Ronald Regan through the eyes of official White House photographer Pete Souza (seen holding a camera). Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Dawn Porter’s new documentary, The Way I See It, looks at the presidencies of Barack Obama and Ronald Regan through the eyes of official White House photographer Pete Souza (seen holding a camera). Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Pete Souza wearing a suit and tie: Dawn Porter's new documentary The Way I See It sees the presidencies of Barack Obama and Ronald Regan through the eyes of official White House photographer Pete Souza (seen holding a camera).

© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Dawn Porter’s new documentary The Way I See It sees the presidencies of Barack Obama and Ronald Regan through the eyes of official White House photographer Pete Souza (seen holding a camera).

Both Porter and Souza were my guests on CNET’s I’m So Obsessed podcast. During our conversation, Porter explained why she was compelled by Souza and his perspective working for Regan and Obama. When Souza started photographing Obama, the future president was still a senator.


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“He [Souza] was thinking, ‘Who is this man?'” said Porter. “And that’s what I was thinking about with Pete. How did he come to be? What has influenced Pete?”

Since hanging up his White House camera, Souza, as his Instagram profile states, has become a citizen of Earth. Over the last three years, the former photojournalist gained attention for having his own opinions about the current occupant of the White House. He registered his distaste as only a photographer can, by posting photos as a juxtaposition. The idea wasn’t to be political but to remind the world of the dignity and empathy needed to be the president.

“I had a unique voice having worked for not only a Republican and a Democratic president, but what’s arguably the most iconic Republican president and the most iconic Democratic president of certainly my generation. I could come at this with a nonpartisan view that this wasn’t because Donald Trump’s a Republican. It had nothing to do with it. He was not fit for office,” said Souza. “For three years, we saw what it means to have someone who’s ill-prepared and is not empathetic. What it means when you’re faced with a global pandemic and trying to bluff your way through it. Tying to do everything that makes you look good, and not what’s best for the country. So it wasn’t really that difficult decision for me to make to start speaking out.”

Over a lively 30 minutes, Porter and Souza discuss why empathy is important for a leader to have, the passing of John Lewis, the significance of professional athletes protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake and what it’s like having Obama officiate your wedding.

Listen to my entire conversation with Porter and Souza on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. The Way I See It opens Friday in

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Michelle Obama claims Trump White House doing what she, her husband never could’ve ‘gotten away with’

Former first lady Michelle Obama took a swipe at the Trump White House this week in an episode of “The Michelle Obama Podcast” on Spotify.

Obama claimed she and her husband, former President Barack Obama, faced too much pressure from their “community” to be able to replicate unspecified actions of the Trump administration.

“When we were in the White House, we could’ve never gotten away with some of the stuff that’s going on now,” she said.

“Not because of the public,” she added, “but our community wouldn’t have accepted that. You worked, you did your best every day. You showed up.”


Obama, 56, was joined on the podcast by her mother, Marian Robinson, 83, and her older brother, Craig Robinson, 58, in a discussion that was mostly about parenting, according to The Hill.

Part of the conversation dealt with interactions between African-Americans and police officers – including an incident from the family’s own experience.

Craig Robinson, an executive director with the National Association of Basketball Coaches, talked about having police once accuse him of stealing his own bicycle when he was a young boy.

Robinson said the incident left him disillusioned because he was “always taught that the police are your friends … and they’ll believe the truth.”

He later claimed that the police officers may have acted differently had they known they’d soon be facing his mother, according to People magazine.

“You know how Mom is,” he said to Michelle. “Mom was like, ‘Go in the house.’ You know how when she’s ready to talk to somebody, she’s like, ‘All right, go in the house.’ And all I could think of was: This dude’s about to get it.”

Michelle Obama added that many people she knows have had “some kind of incident where they were just minding their own business but living Black, and got accused of something.”

She added that many Black families teach their children “you’ve got to be better than, you’ve got to be 10 times better than” others, because of prejudice and mistreatment they will likely face in life.

The former first lady added that such experiences among Blacks help explain the unrest that has erupted across the nation since the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

“The fact that there are people out there that treat us less than, when we’re working so hard to be better than, that’s where the pain comes from,” Obama said. “That’s what these young people are so angry about.”


Earlier this week, some conservatives called on Barack and Michelle Obama to use their connections with the streaming service Netflix to combat the controversial film “Cuties,” which critics say sexualizes and exploits young girls.

The Obamas in 2019 signed a deal said to be worth $50 million to produce content for Netflix, which has been streaming “Cuties.”


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‘The Way I See It’ shows how Obama White House photographer Pete Souza saw it

Pete Souza has had two stints as White House photographer: 5½ years working for Ronald Reagan, then eight for Barack Obama. Talk about camera-ready bipartisanship. It’s working for Obama that’s the main concern of “The Way I See It.” The documentary opens Friday at the Kendall Square and several suburban theaters. It will also be broadcast Oct. 9 on MSNBC, which produced the film.

Souza, 65, was born in New Bedford and discovered photography as an undergraduate at Boston University. He went to Kansas for a master’s degree, worked for a couple of small papers there, then was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times. This led to that first White House job. Souza makes plain that while he didn’t share Reagan’s politics he liked and respected him. Which makes all the more striking his disgust with Donald Trump (we’ll get to that, the documentary certainly does).

President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan waved to the crowd in Dixon, Ill., in February 1984.
President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan waved to the crowd in Dixon, Ill., in February 1984. Pete Souza/Focus Features

At Nancy Reagan’s request, Souza was asked to be official photographer at her husband’s funeral. That’s hard to top as a vote of confidence. He was working for the Chicago Tribune at the time. When Obama was elected to the Senate, Souza was assigned to document his first year in office. The two men hit it off. “I wasn’t with him every day,” Souza recalls, “but I got to know him pretty well professionally.” Four years later, the offer came to work for Obama. “We’re going to have some fun,” the president-elect told him.

Fun may not have been quite the right word. “Imagine trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose that never shuts off,” Souza says of the job. “If you really want to document the presidency for history, you have to be there all time.” It’s hard to imagine a more demanding job — there’s no Camp David for the White House photographer — but it’s also hard to imagine a more exhilarating one. That exhilaration very much comes through in the documentary. Looking at the various photographs and film clips, we are there. Imagine what it was like for Souza, being there all the time.

On May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of their national security team, received an update in the White House Situation Room on the mission against Osama bin Laden
On May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of their national security team, received an update in the White House Situation Room on the mission against Osama bin Laden Pete Souza/Associated Press

“The most interesting part of my job was seeing him in all these different compartments of his life,” Souza says of Obama. We see those compartments: chief executive, politician, husband, father, national consoler, even basketball player and coach. Also matchmaker. There are many good anecdotes in “The Way I See It,” but the best may be how Obama “badgered” Souza — that’s how the photographer puts it — into marrying his longtime girlfriend. The wedding was held in the Rose Garden, with Obama officiating. No, Souza didn’t take the wedding photos.

Souza has

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Michelle Obama Never Wanted Malia And Sasha To ‘Resent The Presidency’ While Growing Up In The White House

Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, Michelle Obama are posing for a picture: Michelle Obama opens up about what it was like raising her two daughters while living in the White House.

© Chip Somodevilla – Getty Images
Michelle Obama opens up about what it was like raising her two daughters while living in the White House.

Raising children in any atmosphere is no easy feat. Living in the White House and facing global pressure only increased the challenges, Michelle Obama confirms. The former First Lady opened up about raising daughters Malia, 22 and Sasha, 19 in the spotlight for the season finale of The Michelle Obama Podcast. During the episode, Obama spoke with her mother, Marian Robinson, and older brother, Craig, about what parenting lessons they learned while growing up in Chicago.

Any guidance grasped was naturally modified when the Obama family moved into the White House in 2009.

‘One of the things that I had to learn how to negotiate was creating these boundaries with my kids in the White House,’ Michelle remembered. ‘I mean, you talk about being raised in a totally different world than I ever knew? It’s like, pluckin’ these little girls out of our normal life on the South Side of Chicago with Craig, and mom, and our way of doing things, and our community, and then, putting them in a historic mansion with butlers and maids, and florists, and gardeners, and Secret service, and then trying to make sure that they understood boundaries, understood responsibility.’

Ensuring that Malia and Sasha led a semi-typical adolescence often required string-pulling from Marian, who lived with the family in the White House. ‘You had to basically upend the system of the White House to get them to make sure these girls had some semblance of normalcy, right?’ Obama said, revealing she’d often sneak her granddaughters ‘a little extra candy’.

Obama also recalled maintaining balance in Barack’s schedule, so that their daughters could appreciate their time at the White House, not begrudge it. “I always tried to make sure that I wasn’t pouting in front of the kids when Barack wasn’t there,” she explained, adding, ‘If I had made a big deal out of it and said, “Oh my god, your dad’s not here again! Oh, he’s missing this” or “I just wish…” then that’s the signal to them, “Well this isn’t normal”.’ She continued, ‘Even as Barack being the president of the United States, he worked his schedule around their schedule. They weren’t waiting until 9 o’clock at night to eat because dad was running late. They never couldn’t not go somewhere or do something because of dad. I never wanted them to resent the presidency, or resent what their dad did.’

a person standing in front of Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Malia Obama posing for the camera: President Obama Holds Election Night Event In Chicago

© Win McNamee – Getty Images
President Obama Holds Election Night Event In Chicago

One milestone almost every family has to endure—dropping their child off at college. Obama reflected on the trip she and Barack took to Harvard for Malia’s freshman year. ‘Barack and I have two different ways of dealing with that anxiety. I just had a list of things to do. I was unpacking the room, we’re making the bed, we’re cleaning, we’re getting the

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