Dawn Porter, who brought us John Lewis: Good Trouble about the late activist and Congressman earlier this year, does it again. If you’ve seen the John Lewis documentary, you’ll fall in love with this candid look behind the scenes with a former White House photographer in her new documentary The Way I See It.
Porter follows Pete Souza, the former Chief Official White House photographer for both the Reagan and Obama administrations, as he tours his latest book Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents. He had rare access to these two presidents so he could document moments in history. It was a chance to bring people closer to these leaders and show not only the personalities of the men in charge of America, but the humanity, dignity, and composure needed to run a country.
Souza took photography in college, worked as a photojournalist, and then got a job in the White House. He wasn’t a politically minded person but wanted to document history, so he became the president’s photographer for two administrations.
Sounds like a simple premise for a documentary, but what was unexpected was Souza’s warmth and his passion for representing the first Black president in the light he saw him. Souza even has kind words for Ronald Reagan, who behaved as a president should even though he disagreed with Reagan’s policies. His goal to show his country how a president should conduct himself becomes a commentary on the White House today. Souza’s observations match his sharp eye: he sees by observing what isn’t shown, which speaks volumes about how America is being run right now. What transpires from his experiences is an Instagram account to post photos of in retaliation to Trump’s horrifying tweets that turned into the aforementioned book.
You should also get ready to become emotional. As a Black person, seeing a Black man running one of the most powerful countries in the world in such an intimate light touched my heart in a way I can barely articulate, and Souza’s sensitivity as a person comes out often as he recounts many moments when Obama is fully human in the face of destruction and grief.
Depending on what side of the fence you’re on, this film could look like a propaganda tool, trying to incite a yearning for what was lost, or it can be a rallying cry for change, and I choose to side with the latter. I am not American, but I’m worried because of the hidden nature of what Trump is doing. As a Canadian, my country will be directly affected by this election’s outcome, so it’s safe to say I’m invested. This documentary isn’t just about a White House photographer and should be a mandatory watch this election year.
Check out the Toronto International Film Festival from Sep 10-20, 2020.