Which brings us to 2009 and the first blockbuster of the year, Michael Bay's Transformers 2, in which Obama gets his Hollywood-movie debut. (He can be glimpsed in a CNN broadcast about ongoing global catastrophes on a Times Square JumboTron.) The evil alien machines — or "bots," the Decepticons — are laying waste to the planet. How does President Obama respond to the crisis? He dismantles the extralegal strike force made up of human commandos and the good robots (and get a load of the pair of Amos 'n' Andy "sambots" for some enlightened racial stereotyping) and tries to "negotiate" with the implacable mechanical evildoers.
Big mistake, Barry — kind of like closing down Gitmo and hamstringing our military. No doubt the Decepticons made their move because they knew Obama was soft on terrorism.
Roland Emmerich's 2012, meanwhile, adds credibility to those conspiracy theorists who think that the first black president is one of the signs of the Apocalypse. In it, Danny Glover plays a president who's got his hands full. Earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions — almost as much of a challenge as dealing with tea baggers, death-panel-believing Minutemen, filibuster-threatening Republican senators, and conspiracy-spewing Fox News wingnuts. Be that as it may, Glover's President Wilson does not respond well to the pressure. By the time the White House is washed away by a wave the size of Mt. Everest, it's no big loss.
In Clint Eastwood's Invictus, though, we finally get a black president worth voting for. The thing is, he's got a birther problem: he's South African. Morgan Freeman brings both dignity and authority to his depiction of Mandela, who in his first term seems to be facing some of the same problems as Obama. Namely, balancing the wishes of those who put him in office with the need to reconcile with those he has put out of power. He has better luck than Obama has had so far in achieving these goals, but then again, Mandela didn't have to deal with the GOP.
CARTOON REALITY PART II: It took an animated film, The Princess and the Frog, to actually present an African-American family as loving, supportive, and real.
From first family to worst families
Obama, however, does have one thing going for him that Mandela didn't have: a happy family. As one of Mandela's new bodyguards soon learns in Invictus, you don't ask the boss how his wife Winnie is doing. Unfortunately, the positive example of the Obama clan does not seem to have had much influence on depictions of black families on the screen.
Perhaps no First Family has charmed Americans as much as the Obamas: attractive, loving, well-adjusted, happy, normal. How ironic, then (or perverse), that just about every film depiction this year of an African-American family is the opposite.
For example, families don't get much more messed up than in Daniels's Precious. It's not bad enough that the title 16-year-old heroine, played in an acclaimed performance by Sidibe, is sexually molested by her father. But her horrible mother (played by Mo'Nique, who won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and will no doubt be nominated for an Oscar in the same category) gets in on the act, too. Sidibe's Precious has already had two kids sired by her daddy, one who is afflicted with Down syndrome. She's obese, illiterate, and desperately lonely. Then things get really bad.