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Obama the Menteng Kid (Obama Anak Menteng in Indonesian), a film depicting US President Barack Obama's early childhood in Indonesia, premiered in Jakarta on June 30 to an audience of Indonesian celebrities, politicians and US Ambassador Cameron Hume. The film opened to nationwide release the next day on July 1.

The film, produced by one of Indonesia's largest production companies, Multivision Plus Pictures, depicts President Obama as a young boy growing up in the affluent Jakarta suburb of Menteng in the 1970s, forging friendships, learning the courage to stand up to bullies and building the values that would one day lead him to the White House.

The film, of course, did not escape its fair share of controversy. In the novel from which the screenplay was adapted, the young "Barry Soetoro" (his step-father's surname), as he was known to his friends, reads the Qur'an and emulates his friends in prayer. These incidents were conspicuous abscent in the film.

Producer Raam Punjabi said the scenes were "too political" and would have detracted from the central message of the film. He explained, "We wanted to make the movie from the point of view of the children. We did not want to enter into politics...The message is about the friendship, about the determination, about reaching the sky and that is the sole message of this movie."

Behind the camera is John de Rantau and screenwriter and co-director Damien Dematra.

Dematra said that he hoped young Indonesians would be "inspired by Obama and not be afraid of their differences...Obama is an icon of pluralism and he represents a triumph for minorities."

14-year-old American-born actor Hasan Farouk Ali plays the president in the film. Born to a Caucasian mother and a black father, the actor has lived in Jakarta since he was four and speaks both Bahasa and English fluently.  

Indonesian actor Eko Noah and South-African-born actress Cara Lachelle play President Obama's stepfather Lolo Soetoro and his mother Stanley Ann Durham respectively.

Dematra wrote the novel on which the film was based in just four days after a month of research and interviews with 30 people. The book was published in March 2010 by Gramedia.

The feature-length screenplay was written in a whirlwind three to four weeks, with four subsequent rewrites. Production began in May 2010 and was similarly rushed with post-production ramped up to coincide with President Obama's slated visit to the nation on June 17. The visit was later cancelled and the premiere was postponed to June 30.

The film received mixed reviews with some commentators lauding its inspirational content and others criticizing its lack of factual depth.

Ahead of the release, Dematra, also a photographer and painter, auctioned off a series of his paintings of President Obama for charity. His works depicted the president in various casual scenes, such as in conversation with his mother, playing ping pong or soccer or in quiet contemplation.





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