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Audiences mixed on ‘Obama
Anak Menteng’

This might be the latest hullaballoo about US President Barack Obama. After incessant reporting on his scheduled visits — and cancellations — a film about Obama’s childhood in Jakarta was just released.

Local and international media have been busy digging up information on Obama and interviewing his former classmates, teachers and neighbors ever since he became president.

Soon thereafter, Obama became a symbol of hope and inspiration, especially for children.

The film is entitled Obama Anak Menteng (Obama, Child of Menteng). It refers to the neighborhood where he lived for four years with his mother, Ann Dunham, and Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro.

Obama Anak Menteng is based on a novel with the same title written by Damien Dematra. Damien — an author and painter — also wrote Obama dari Asisi (Obama from Asisi), which refers to the school Obama attended before transferring to state elementary school Besuki in Menteng.

The film, which combines fact and fiction, is directed by John De Rantau, the man behind the award-winning film Denias: Senandung di Atas Awan (Denias: A Hum above the Clouds).

Set in the late 1960s, the 100-minute film depicts the nine-year-old Obama, known to his Indonesian friends as Barry, as he struggles to adapt to a new environment and make friends. Many people call him weird in the film because of his skin color and afro.

Slowly but surely, Barry (played by American Hasan Faruq Ali) makes friends and starts playing soccer and marbles with local children. His life becomes more colorful after a transvestite housemaid, Turdi (Teuku Zacky), arrives in his house.

Movie fans both liked and criticized the film. Fanny, 27, said that she had been very excited to watch the film, but was eventually disappointed.

“The story is good. It teaches a lot about friendship. It can motivate children to be good people,” she told The Jakarta Post.

“But the plot was way too flat. It’s not well-made. I don’t get a feel for the story. It’s probably because the film was hurriedly made.”

She criticized the “stiff” acting of Eko Noah, who portrayed Barry’s stepfather Lolo Soetoro.

“Thanks should go to Turdi. He’s the only character who spices up this film. If there was no Turdi, the film would be even more boring,” said Fanny, who attended the premiere with colleagues.

“Teuku Zacky gave a good performance. Turdi has the best part in this film because he’s the one who catches our attention. At the end of the day, Turdi pushes Barry out of the limelight. Isn’t it Barry who  is supposed to be the focus?” she added.

She also questioned the facts in the film. “It’s said that this movie claims to be based on Obama’s childhood in Jakarta, but does it really reveal the truth?”

“Did the Obama family once have a transvestite maid?” Fanny said.  

Herita, a writer, raised the same question. “Is it real or fiction? I doubt that there was a real Turdi,” she said. “It’s clear that the filmmakers only want to take advantage and profit from Obama euphoria in the country.”  

Some scenes were overdone, she added. “There’s a scene in which Barry plays with the boys and he suddenly gives a speech. I think that’s too much.”

“I might recommend this film to my little nieces or nephews, but for teenagers and adults, you’d better pick another film,” she said.

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