The name Stanley Ann Dunham doesn’t ring many bells. But her son is pretty well-known — he lives in that big white house on the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Dunham (who was named Stanley because her father wanted a boy; she went by Ann) is the subject of “Obama Mama,” a documentary getting its D.C. premiere Friday at the ninth annual African Diaspora International Film Festival. After the screening, director Vivian Norris will attend a Q&A session about her film, which covers the life of a woman who didn’t live to see her son take the oath of office. We had some Q’s of our own for Norris.
In the movie, you don’t define Dunham as “Obama’s mother.” You focus on her in her own right. Why is that?
I basically looked at her as this extraordinary woman who is also a mother. Being a mother was a huge part of her life; she delayed her Ph.D., she took a lot of time off of her own schooling. What you basically came away with is how this woman who was way ahead of her time influenced her son.
Influenced him politically?
You can see her in some of the policy decisions he made. The health care issue, because she died [in 1995, of ovarian and uterine cancer] with some insurance, but not full health insurance. Paid family leave — she was a single mom for periods of time, things like that. In his Nobel Prize speech he said, “Look, I don’t know if I deserve this or if I ever will, but if I do it will be because of the things she instilled in me.”
How did her work in Indonesia fit into that?
His mother was in a difficult situation in Indonesia [Dunham, her husband Lolo Soetoro and the young Obama arrived in 1967, when the country was in the midst of vast anti-Communist sentiment, culminating in mass murders]. She said, “We’re going to work with [the government], even though they’ve done horrible things, we’re going to try to get around that horrible system to get the help to the people who need help.” What she did was give them a little bit of money, and that’s really little bits of entrepreneurship. She was one of the very, very first doing microlending. She was ahead of her time.
In her relationship with Obama’s father, too, right?
When she fell in love with his father, she never said, “Oh my gosh, I can’t date an African man.” She thought, “Oh my gosh, what an extraordinary human being,” which at that time was unheard of. And then, later, she made a very feminist, ahead-of-her-time choice not to stay in that marriage and to raise a child on her own. It was brave to make a lot of the choices she made. She followed her heart quite a bit. Kristen Page-Kirby (Express)
Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW; Fri., 6 p.m., $12.
The African diaspora film fest has got the world covered
In addition to “Obama Mama,” 12 other films make up the slate at this year’s African Diaspora International Film Festival, including submissions from France, Cuba, Argentina and some African nations.
A major theme is the effect of the African diaspora on countries far from the African coast, including “Reshipment,” a documentary about the connections between Cubans and Haitians, and “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango,” about how African music influenced the quintessential South American dance. Even Canada makes an appearance with “Black (NWA),” about problematic police relationships in inner-city Montreal.
“Hear Me Move” from South Africa and “Bilatena” from Ethiopia are also getting their U.S. premieres. “Move” is about the son of a famous sbujwa dancer who joins forces with his dead father’s former partner. “Bilatena” is a gentle, humorous film about a boy helping his mother and older brother to support their family.
The opening-night film, “Christmas Wedding Baby,” comes from the U.S. It addresses the changing role of black women through the relationships of four sisters and their mother. Director Kiara Jones will participate in a post-screening Q&A. Each film screens only once but there are no overlaps, so it’s possible to see every movie and take in a range of films as broad as the African diaspora itself.
Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW; Fri.-Sun., $12-$20 per screening, day passes $35 (Sat.) and $30 (Sun.), weekend pass $75.