Auma Obama is the half sister of President Barack Obama. *Photo supplied
Auma Obama is the half sister of President Barack Obama. *Photo supplied

The Education of Auma Obama

**

• Directors: Branwen Okpako

• Run time: 80 minutes

• Country: Germany, Kenya

• Showing: 5pm, Oct 21

 

The contrast of two worlds is what fascinates in this documentary — Barack Obama’s high-powered Presidential standing seems worlds apart from the humble origins of his late father’s village in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Education of Auma Obama opens with coverage, in the run up to Election Day in 2008, of the preparations villagers make for the announcement of their local hero. Women sit barefoot around the yard peeling vegetables for the pot and men fix an aerial to the side of the house so they can pick up the coverage on their television sets.

There are clips of pre-election speeches by the man whose name is on everyone’s lips before the story switches back to the real subject of the film, Obama’s half elder sister Auma.

It continues as a reletively interesting family portrait of the Obama family though her eyes, highlighting the sense of justice, intellectualism and social activism that pours through the generations.

We learn how Auma and Barack’s shared father Barack Hussein Obama Sr, left for America to become a senior governmental economist. Auma’s recollections of her father are tainted with sorrow, a sense of abandonment and disappointment.

The film eventually moves from the family history, to a quick fire rundown of Auma’s academic achievements and personal triumphs.

This part of the documentary does not go into any great depth though despite the suggestion of the film title — she leaves for Germany to study linguistics — her professor says she was one of the smartest Africans he had ever taught — she goes to dance school, is socially active and later pursues a teaching career.

If you are watching this documentary to watch old clips of the young President in Africa or growing politically in America, it’s a long time waiting.

The documentary runs chronologically starting with the grandfather and it is not until Auma was a grown adult that Obama Jr decided to connect to his African roots.

Here it fell to Auma to prepare Obama for his trip back to Africa. It’s novel to see him relaxing and trying to fit in with the new people in his life.

Auma tells how she connected with Obama on discussions of politics and equality and community more than with anyone else in her family. 

The documentary format is well known in that while it runs chronologically, there are snippets throughout of the “present day” as tension in Kenya builds up to Election Day.

It works well as a concept but some of these snippets were so brief and oddly placed that it jarred the flow of the film at times.

The other problem is that in the present day scenes there’s not a lot is going on. The residents visit the grave of Auma and Obama’s father discuss the fading condition of the tiles on it. In another scene they sit around discussing the weather. It’s meant to offer a build up to the big event but there is little of interest in these snippets except for the uplifting finalé is. The film is worth watching but slow-moving — you may want  a fast forward button nearby.