Review: The Way I See It

The Way I See It (2020) ★★★1/2
Director: Dawn Porter
Streaming on MSNBC

Pete Souza was the Chief Official White House Photographer to both President Reagan and President Obama, and he also documented Obama’s time in the Senate, accompanying him on foreign trips and on the campaign trail. Both Obama and Reagan were unusual in the amount of private access they offered their photographer, and Souza got to know both men well. Souza’s photographs are remarkable for the way they show the human side of the presidency. His images show Reagan and Obama laughing with friends and family, ribbing spouses, hugging children, and joking with staff. Souza’s photos also reveal the weight of the office; we see anxiety, stress, and even sadness on both former president’s faces as they mull situations with grave consequences.

Souza had respect and sympathy for both Reagan and Obama, and never considered himself to be a particularly political person — and certainly not an activist. That changed when Trump was elected to office. He was so offended by Trump’s demeanor in office that he began to tweet photos from the Obama era to show the contrast between the two men. His tweets were immediately popular and Souza, a man who has always been behind the scenes, became a minor celebrity. In addition to his prolific social media posts, Souza also published two books of photography during the Trump era. The first book was Obama: An Intimate Portrait, which contains some of his most iconic photos from the Obama era. The second, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, is derived from his social media posts and juxtaposes photos of Obama with tweets from President Trump.

The Way I See It uses Souza’s still photos to tell the story of Obama’s presidency and of Souza’s activism in the wake of the 2016 election. It’s supplemented with commentary by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, several of Obama’s closest aides, and a slide-show lecture that Souza gave during his book tour. Although I’ve heard from almost everyone in this documentary before, including Souza, it was a surprisingly riveting behind-the-scenes glimpse of a presidency that defined an era. We see video footage of Obama and Souza’s interactions when he and Souza worked together, and it was moving to witness the close relationships that Obama fostered with Souza and, it seems, a lot of the White House staff. It was also interesting to hear the stories behind some of Souza’s best known photographs. Mostly though, I enjoyed reliving the Obama era and diversity of his administration, which had so many more women and people of color at the highest levels of government. In a year when I’ve re-watched a lot of my favorite movies, this may have been the ultimate nostalgia watch.

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