“President Obama is not an angry black man from Chicago. I mean, give me a break, he’s a Hawaiian, with a Hawaiian temperament,” says Borland, who was raised in Hawaii around the same time as Obama and now lives in Dupont Circle. Along with Washington’s 10,000-strong Hawaiian community, she believes the 44th president’s public narrative fails to highlight just how deeply Hawaiian culture has influenced both his personality and his policies.
“She is so passionate, on a serious mission. And we’re really proud of her,” says Wendell Yee, 65, who unpacks his ukulele and smiles gently as he watches Borland shuffle through her notes. “This really needed to happen.”
The president’s competing biographical narratives are apparent in the wrangling over which state will get to host Obama’s official presidential library when his second term ends. Will it be the sun-dappled Polynesian island where he was born and raised, graduating from Honolulu’s prestigious Punahou School? Or the chilly metropolis on Lake Michigan where he worked as a young community organizer and later served as a senator?
For Borland, what does it feel like to be obsessed — possessed — with the belief that an important part of history is being ignored? For the Hawaiian community in Washington it’s a little like this: “Did you know, that Obama’s daughter is named ‘Malia’? Malia is a common Hawaiian name,” says Borland, her voice rising. “Go to any school in Hawaii, any classroom, and you’ll find a girl named Malia.”
Borland’s own pre-teen daughter, Imiloa, has been her secret weapon in getting exclusive interviews with Obama’s childhood friends. She recites facts even quicker than her mother. “Did you know most kids’ books on Obama leave out his Hawaiian story?” she asks as her mother exhibits Obama’s page in a book called “U.S. Presidents” that makes no mention of Hawaii. Borland finds such omissions “flabbergasting,” and points out that they are not confined to children’s books. The Obama biography video shown at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, for example, doesn’t even mention Hawaii.
“There’s so much information that’s wrong. It’s all stereotypes and I didn’t want him to be misunderstood,” says Borland, who’s in the final stages of finishing her film. She says the documentary is educational rather than political. Funded mostly by her late parents, it cost about $300,000 to shoot, a figure that includes 42 interviews and 15 trips to Hawaii to talk to close friends and family of “Barry,” as Obama is known in Hawaii. Borland, a media entrepreneur, has made the documentary her full-time job.