Michelle Obama 2024: A review of Joel Gilbert's new film
I confess that, having paid pretty close attention to the lives of Barack and Michelle Obama ever since the entry of the couple into presidential politics in 2003, I was surprised at how much I learned from filmmaker Joel Gilbert's new film. Michelle Obama 2024: Her Real Life Story and Plan for Power, offers a deeper look into the former first lady — and, in Gilbert's opinion, the likely 2024 Democrat nominee — than I had ever experienced. (You can read Joel's recent AT article derived from the film here.)
It is a hugely entertaining look as well. Gilbert travels to the key locations in Michelle Obama's life, starting with the apartment complex her family first lived in, the schools she attended (quite a story there!), and the places she worked, as well as the places she and her husband made key moments in his political rise.
This is a very personal film, with Gilbert guiding viewers on this tour, and sometimes talking on camera with important persons in her life, including Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, through a closed screen door on her house.
It is a testament to the honesty and thoroughness of the filmmaker that I came away from the film with a heightened appreciation for the efforts of Fraser and Marian Robinson in raising their children, older brother Craig and Michelle, as well as a deeper understanding of how thoroughly marinated in politics Michelle has been since early childhood.
One of many things I learned in the film was the importance the Robinsons placed on educating and cultivating the growth of their kids. This extended to illegally enrolling Michelle in an elementary school that she was ineligible to attend. Bryn Mawr School was in a prosperous middle-class neighborhood, unlike Dulles Elementary School, which Michelle was supposed to attend. The problem with Dulles was that the students mostly came from a ghetto environment, whereas Bryn Mawr had many white students and was a very good school. They started Michelle on dance lessons when she was 7, later enrolling her in the prestigious Mayfair Dancer Academy, and had her seriously study piano as well.
This, of course, was derided as "acting white" even back then. Good for the Robinsons in resisting this kind of censure! But as Gilbert convincingly portrays and documents, it created problems for Michelle in the field of politics, in which she also was immersed from childhood onward.
I had known that her father, Fraser Robinson, was a precinct captain in the Chicago Democratic Machine, but I hadn't realized how much this fact pervaded Michelle's upbringing. And Papa Robinson was, as well, pretty successful at it, earning good money in his patronage job at a water filtration plant, able to drive a top-of-the-line Buick Electra 225, and give their children private lessons, summer camp, and the other accouterments of upper-middle-class life. Again, good for them! But it contrasts sharply with the picture Michelle continually paints of a girl from the Southside of Chicago who allegedly kept getting told that the good things in life (such as going to Princeton) weren't for her. (Gilbert actually talked to her high school counselor, who put the lie to Michelle's claim that she was told it wasn't for her.)
Another thing I learned was that in high school, the elite Whitney Young Magnet School, she befriended Sarita Jackson, daughter of Jesse Jackson. Here is a picture of her (upper left corner) with the Jackson family.
There is a lot more to the film than her early years, interesting as they are. It builds toward his thesis that Michelle has been planning for running for president, and that the Democrats now know she is the only person who can lock down the black vote for them, and who is popular enough with the general public to make an election victory plausible.
You can order a DVD or play a streaming version of the film here. I recommend it.