HBO’s three-part documentary, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION, debuting Tuesday, August 3 (9:00-10:40PM ET/PT), with additional parts airing Wednesday and Thursday at the same time, chronicles the personal and political journey of President Barack Obama, as the country grapples with its racial history. Weaving together conversations with colleagues, friends, and critics, and interspersed with his own speeches and news interviews, the series begins with Obama’s childhood and takes us through his perspective as the son of a white mother from Kansas and an African father, his spiritual formation by a generation of Black leaders, and his hopes for a more inclusive America. Through the story of one man irrevocably bound to the history of a country, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION reflects on the country’s past and present national identity.
The three-part documentary will debut on HBO and be available to stream on HBO Max.
OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION is directed by Emmy(R) winner Peter Kunhardt (HBO’s “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality,” “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls“, “King in the Wilderness“).
With the clarity of hindsight and perspective of the last four years, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION forms a cohesive picture of America under its first Black president. Obama’s presidency was unique in America’s history, but what was a historic step forward for the country also exposed the ever-present need to address deeply entrenched challenges around race, racial justice, and our history.
The series provides context, insight, and critique from a wide range of participants including: author Jelani Cobb; Representative John Lewis; political consultant David Axelrod; Rev. Alvin Love; author Michael Eric Dyson; journalist Laura Washington; Rev. Jeremiah Wright; journalist Michele Norris; New Yorker editor David Remnick; Rev. Al Sharpton; professor Cornel West; politician Jesse Jackson; author Ta-Nehisi Coates; NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill; political advisor Valerie Jarrett; professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.; actor Keegan-Michael Key; former government official Shirley Sherrod; journalist David Maraniss; professor Ken Mack; speechwriter Jon Favreau; advisor Broderick Johnson; and Representative Bobby Rush.
Part One of OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION looks back over Obama’s upbringing by a single mother from Kansas and white grandparents, his early schooling in Hawaii, and his education at Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Through archival interviews, Obama reflects on the impact of having an estranged African father, growing up bi-racial, and his evolving relationship with the African American community in Chicago, where he worked with Black churches as a community organizer.
Part Two takes us from Obama’s presidential bid to his election to the White House in November 2008, exploring the obstacles and successes along the campaign trail. With constant pressure to define his identity along racial lines and frustrated by what he saw as a distraction from other important issues, Obama delivers his “race speech” of March 2008, a determined defense of the U.S. Constitution and a plea to look beyond America’s “racial stalemate” in order to advance prosperity and unity.
Part Three takes us to the White House years and the formidable hurdles that Obama faced trying to pass legislation in a bitterly divided Congress. He ultimately succeeded in passing the Affordable Care Act but the chasm across the aisle in Washington grew ever wider. As the nation faced a period of heightened awareness around police brutality towards African Americans and the fervent partisan battle over gun control, his critics accused him and the administration of not doing enough to lead a conversation about race, and the president moves forward with policies that focus on racial justice and empowerment.
OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION encapsulates the man and the president, illuminating his vision for the nation shaped from his own experiences and identity. Through today’s lens, the documentary reflects on the Obama administration with a new understanding of the personal obstacles he faced and the challenging pursuit for equality in America.
HBO Documentary Films’ presents a Kunhardt Films Production, OBAMA: IN PURSUIT OF A MORE PERFECT UNION, directed by Peter Kunhardt; produced by George Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt, Matthew O. Henderson; edited and produced by Maya Mumma, ACE; executive producers, Peter Kunhardt; Andi Bernstein and Mona Sutphen; Jelani Cobb and Jacqueline Glover. For HBO: senior producer, Sara Rodriguez; executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.