When writing the film Tanne tuned out of political news and debates and laser-beam focused on the personal story of the Obamas in the hopes of conveying a relationship which could inspire others.
He repeatedly disarms her with knowing anecdotes and tantalizing allusions to his complicated feelings towards his dad. The film, which beautifully evokes its Windy City setting with sun-drenched cinematography and R&B hits of the era on its soundtrack, touches on some of the Obamas’ oft-discussed first date landmarks – they take in a screening of Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and have an awkward run-in with a white co-worker afterwards.
“Southside With You” culminates with the Obamas’ now iconic pit stop at a local Baskin Robbins, which was mythologized with its own plaque in 2012, and in a way the ice cream they share is an apt metaphor for their burgeoning romance.
Despite the potentially polarizing subject of the film, Tanne says the resistance he met had more to do with getting producers on board with him as a first time filmmaker and selling his desire to cast a relative unknown as Barack Obama.
The reality is that Obama, who was still paying off his college loans when he entered the U.S. Senate, has always put his personal narrative front-and-center: a man with an absentee goat herder father from Kenya and a white mother he compares to Patsy Cline in the film.
According to Tanne, one of the film’s producers – R&B star John Legend – is friendly with the first couple and has spoken with them about the project.