Charles S. Dutton is the first to admit that the recently released “The Obama Effect” is a pro-Obama motion picture. Yet the former star of “Roc” insisted that the 90-minute comedy/drama is not a political film. For the co-producer, director, screenwriter and lead actor in the flick that opened at AMC theatres last Friday, this was his way of capturing history in a unique context.
“The Obama Effect” is the story of insurance salesman John Thomas, played by Dutton. He becomes passionate about the 2008 Obama campaign after a health scare. The cast includes Katt Williams, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Meagan Good and Glynn Turman as well as boxer Zab Judah and other new faces to the silver screen.
The film, produced by entertainment executive Barry Hankerson of Blackground Records, is now in its first run. It opened in select cities, preceded by premiere showings. Locally, the film opened to a full and enthusiastic house at Lowe’s AMC Theatre in Cherry Hill, N.J., on July 11.
“This chronicles one of the most important moments in history, when this country elected its first Black president,” said Dutton, who is making his directorial debut. “It’s a satirical look at the 2008 election. This is about a man who becomes obsessed with the Obama election. This captures a moment in time when many people never thought they would see in their lifetime.
“For him this is a kind of non-negotiable madness. He puts this election before his family, friends and job. Then there’s his alter ego, and he really thinks he is talking to Obama. There’s also the divisiveness and polarizing that took place in 2008 (reflected) right in his own community,” said Dutton.
The film took more than three years in the making. It began in January 2009 on the heels of the presidential inauguration with what Dutton called a “triple duty” operation. First, he and Hankerson came together with the idea to make an independent film about the 2008 presidential race from a pro-Obama perspective.
Then, they created a character who “had tunnel vision” on his conviction that President Obama was the only candidate who should win the election. Finally, there was much rewriting and retaking scenes throughout 2009 and 2010 until the current version emerged during 2011 and received its final edits this year.
“The original cut was too tragic,” said Dutton. “It was like a page out of King Lear. So, we had to go back and make it lighter and more fun. There are serious moments but with the addition of Katt Williams as the super-rich nephew by marriage and a Black Republican, that made it more satirical.”
Yet just because the movie has many jovial moments, doesn’t mean there is no conflict or serious scenes. There is. For example, the main character is at odds with his Latino next-door neighbors who he feels should make an immediate commitment to support Obama.
At the same time, the sons of the two families compete in a boxing match. Additionally, there is a clandestine affair between another Latino neighbors’ son and the protagonist’s daughter. “This movie clearly multi-layered,” said Dutton.
Furthermore, Thomas tells his fellow organizers that, “Anyone involved in the Obama campaign is going to be alright.” Ironically, Dutton himself did not get thumbs up from the official Obama campaign camp. This was a result of the producers’ effort to keep the independent film truly independent, according to Dutton. That is why rather than scout major investors, he and Hankerson opted to finance the venture themselves.
“This is unabashedly a pro-Obama film but we didn’t want Chicago, the White House or anyone else censuring the script and looking over our shoulder,” said Dutton. “I think this is a classy movie that you could bring your family or church group to see. We tried to keep capture the euphoria of 2008 while mending fences in a way that is uplifting. I think the story is still electrifying in a new way now that it’s 2012.
“Some of the (sentiments) expressed back in 2008 reflect the vehement resistance we see in Congress and from the tea party. We started filming before (some) Americans took off their sheets or rolled by the hoods. So, there’s much relevance in a 2008 story speaking to this upcoming election,” said Dutton.
Dutton anticipates that the First Family will request a screening during its early run. He admitted that he hopes that he can give the Obamas their own edited version of the film. There are choice phrases he would like to delete so as not to offend President Obama, the first lady or their daughters, he said. Other than that, he feels that the Obamas would appreciate that its release is well-timed and tastefully done.
Now, audiences across the country can also see the initial AMC theaters exclusive run and make their own assessment. Besides Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, the select market cities include Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas and Houston.
Dutton said his requests for reviews to be broadcast on stations like Fox News, or for an interview with Bill O’Reilly about “The Obama Effect,” were ignored. Yet Dutton is taking that in stride.
“I am not naïve,because I understand that half the country may not be interested in seeing this movie, but there’s the other half who will,” said Dutton.
These days Dutton just is eager for the nationwide and possibly worldwide distribution of “The Obama Effect” in October. However, he’s not resting on those potential laurels either. He is already preparing to film his next movie in Philadelphia. This is about Stevie Gordon, a fictitious music mogul who is stuck in the 20th century still saying statements like “Let’s go and make the record.”
This is slated for a Memorial Day release.