Branwen Okpako’s 2011 film “The Education of Auma Obama” follows the life of Barrack Obama’s half-sister, Auma Obama, in her homestead in Kenya during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Although this film does not shy away from including Barrack Obama, it is ultimately dismantles misconceptions that were commonly held about the President’s “Kenyan family” and reveals that Auma Obama is not just the presidents sister. She is a multilingual academic, a film maker, artist, activist and an influence in the world by her own right.
The film showing was sponsored by Gender Studies, the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Provost. A mixed crowd of professors, students and members of the larger Sarasota community gathered in the New College Teaching Auditorium to watch the 2011 Africa International Film Festival’s Best People’s Choice and the 2012 Africa Movie Academy Awards’ Best Diaspora Documentary winning documentary on Wednesday, March 18th.
“My reason for inviting [Branween Okpako to show her film] was to show who speaks German,” German language
and literature Professor Wendy Sutherland said. “I do not think people would think the president’s sister speaks German and is fluent in it.”
Okpako introduced the film by explaining that she and Auma Obama had both attended the German Film & Television Academy Berlin in the 1990s. Okpako said when she approached Obama with her idea for a documentary on Auma’s life and experiences during the 2008 presidential election, Obama was hesitant due to the new level of media scrutiny she and he family were already facing, but eventually she agreed.
“This is an opportunity to tell our story,” Okpako said she told Auma Obama when convincing her to participate in her film. “We will not get another chance like this.”
Okpako said that she and Obama had a lot of things in common. They were highly educated African women who occupied realms in Africa and in Europe. Okpako was born in Lagos, Nigeria, completed the International Baccalaureate at United World College in Wales and went on to study political science at the University of Bristol before attending film school, while Obama studied German at the University of Heidelberg, earned a Phd at the University of Bayreuth before film school. Okpako explained that both women also dealt with the navigation of different cultural spaces and the colonial wounds as well as the postcolonial disappointment felt by their parents and other members of the generation before them.
The film covers three generations of the Obama family going from grandfather, father to Auma Obama and her siblings.
“This is the Obama phenomenon from a purely African perspective,” Okpako said.
The film covers everything from Auma’s grandfather’s job as a cook for an English family, the story of how Auma’s mother met Barrack Obama Sr., Obama Sr. marrying a white American women and her role in Auma’s life, Barrack Sr.’s influential role in Kenyan politics, Auma Obama’s break with her father and her move to Germany to the first time Auma meet Barrack Obama Jr.
The film reveals Auma and her family’s struggle to remain an entity, independent of her brothers fame, while there were many false and altered depictions of who they were and what being Kenyan was. This tension reveals the greater problem of how the African
continent is depicted in the Western world and what the effects of that have
After the film Okpako opened the floor up for questions. She explained that Auma Obama is now an activists, who works with the
young people of Kenya. Auma Obama’s message is that there are opportunities everywhere and a big city life is not better than a rural one. Obama believes in ecological, economic and social sustainability and motivating the young to help themselves.
“Auma wanted to show ‘we are more alike than different,’” Okpako said.