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"Obama, the Menteng Kid" opens in Indonesia to great success

The movie is about the US president's childhood in Jakarta where he lived from 1967 to 1971 with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. The release was due to coincide with Obama's visit in June, which was postponed.

Childhood picture of Obama with his mother, half-sister and stepfather in Jakarta

Childhood picture of Obama with his mother, half-sister and stepfather in Jakarta

As a six year old, American school-kid Obama suddenly found himself on the other side of the world surrounded by children who looked different and spoke a totally different language.

"Obama Anak Menteng" tells the fictionalized account of his time in Menteng, an upscale district in the Indonesian capital, and of his initial struggle to fit in.

"You're from the West, but black. You've got weird hair and a big nose," is what a boy in the neighborhood responds when Barack introduces himself. He then has to fight his way into being accepted.

"60 percent fact"

Co-director and screenplay Damien Dematra, who has also published a book of the same name, interviewed dozens of people during a month of research. He says it is "60 percent fact and 40 percent fiction."

The film director wanted to show how Obama's years in Indonesia affected the man who became such a pluralist and inspiring figure

The film director wanted to show how Obama's years in Indonesia affected the man who became such a "pluralist and inspiring" figure

"It happens that Obama lived in Indonesia as a child," explained Raam Punjabi, the producer. "So, we are the only ones who can make this film. This film could not have been produced in Singapore, they do not have the base and the background.

"If he hadn't lived here, then we wouldn't have this film now. If he hadn't become the president of the USA, we also wouldn't have this film. So, it all depends on the situation. Everyone knows who Obama is and that he used to live in Indonesia. I think people will be very curious about this."

A success with audiences

The film, which is supposed to show the US president in a different light and inspire children to pursue their dreams, has already gone down very well with the audience so far.

"The film is very good," one female viewer at a Jakarta cinema said. "Especially for children. It is very touching. It is not just about Barry Obama, people can really learn that if you work for your dreams diligently, then they will come true. Children also got the message."

This was the goal, explained Punjabi. "If you listen to the lyrics of this background song 'I want to fly high', I think they are very inspiring for our children. The only thing I want to do is to lift the spirit of our children. Why should we make more controversy?"

A film to show how culturally diverse Indonesia is

The film producers did skirt controversy with regard to the extent that the Christian president was influenced by Islam in his early years. A scene that showed him praying like a Muslim in order to fit in was later removed because it was deemed "too political". Dematra said he had not wanted it to be "taken out of context".

Obama has often said he gained an insight into Islam during his time in Jakarta

Obama has often said he gained an insight into Islam during his time in Jakarta

He added that the film was not supposed to be political but to show how culturally diverse Indonesia is and how a country with a Muslim minority but significant Hindu and Christian minorities might have influenced the man who went on to become such a "pluralist and inspiring figure".

The message seems to have got through to children in the first audiences. "I understood everything," one child said proudly. "It's a good film. Barry was fighting was Carut, but at the end they became friends, he apologized and then it was all peaceful. And Barry reached his goals because he gets up early in the morning to study."

The film was shot in the city of Bandung on West Java in just over a month with a cast composed of little-known Indonesian actors. Obama is played by Hasun Faruq Ali, the son of a mixed-race couple who also moved from the United States to Indonesia as a child.

The filmmakers are aiming for an international release in September.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Disha Uppal

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