Charles S. Dutton is not one to hold his tongue in interviews and even, in movies that he writes. This is why, he likes to go the independent route—there are no rules to follow. Enter his latest film, The Obama Effect, starring Dutton, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Katt Williams, Gynn Turman and Meagan Good. The film is a satirical look at the ‘Obamamania’ that swept the nation in 2008 but also a rouse to inspire people to get involved with the upcoming election.
EBONY caught up with Dutton to talk about his inspiration for the film, his choice of Katt Williams to play a Republican, why right-wingers should be scared and why he feels Obama has had a harder time presiding over America than any president in history.
EBONY: Is The Obama Effect actually about Obama?
Charles Dutton: It’s a satirical look at the 2008 election. I say ‘satirical,’ because that can encompass both comedy and drama. But in essence, it’s about a man who worked for the Obama campaign in a local community capacity, in his own community and he becomes totally obsessed with getting Obama elected, because this historical moment—one he never thought he’d live to see—becomes the most important thing in his life, and it becomes such an obsession that he starts neglecting the other things in his life like his wife, his kids and his job. But through his obsession he gains a purpose in life and ultimately becomes a better husband, a better father and a better human being in general. He wasn’t a bad human being, he just go so wrapped up into this moment in history that he lost track of things and so the picture isn’t about Obama, it’s about recapturing what many people Black, White, young, old, Brown—all of that—that half of the country that underwent that euphoria, the passion and those emotions in seeing him elected.
EBONY: So, it’s not as much about the politics as the title may make people believe?
CD: The thing I’m most proud of in the picture is that we captured that moment. People leave the theater after seeing that movie saying, “I cried in this film, the same way I cried at home when I was awaiting the results,” and this has been in city after city and in premiere after premiere that I’ve sat through that people have come and said that we’ve captured that feeling. But also, it’s not just about capturing the positive side of the moment, but the polarization his candidacy had and the divisions in the country that his candidacy caused. We think it’s a good political film without being a political film.
EBONY: If your main character were a real person, would he still be as into Obama as people were the first time around?
CD: I’ll be honest, Obama is still a politician and there’s never been a perfect president, so if I can levy some criticism of Obama’s campaign, he did promise the world. There wasn’t one single thing that I can remember that he wasn’t promising. And I sat there, just like Colin Powell—who broke ranks in the Republican ranks and voted for Obama and said, “I wish he’d stop promising everything,” and I agree with him. Being a realist myself, as I’m sure Colin Powell was, we know he wasn’t gonna be able to deliver on hardly any of it. He did do a lot of things however, my criticism, once again is that the president really cant tout his own achievement in a slap me in my own back kind of style. It has to be someone in his administration and that’s where I think the Obama cabinet is sorely lacking, because they have allowed the republicans to shape the argument, to shape the standard, and to shape the outlook to shape the image and also to shape the achievement of Obama. And of course, if they’re going to shape the achievements perception-wise and image wise, then they’re gonna say he hasn’t done anything so the Obama cabinet has bee atrocious in getting the word out.
EBONY: What do you feel they should have put out there?
CD: There are the things that are obvious, like the health care bill, which will pass by that one vote and getting Bin Laden, but that was a three-day news event and then you didn’t hear about it anymore. It’s not that you want to spend time touting we killed someone but the fact of the matter was, had the Republicans did it we would be still talking about it today.
EBONY: So you’re saying the Democrats didn’t support Obama the way they should have?
CD: The Democratic Party as a whole has to grow some balls, in my opinion, and I say that all the time. MSNBC stands up for Obama more than any Democrat out there. Chris Matthews is more combative and supportive of Obama than anybody in the Congressional Black Caucus. Heath Shuler is more combative and more supportive of Obama than anybody in the Democratic Party, Al Sharpton and Rachel Maddow are more supportive of Obama than anybody in his cabinet. For two years, people have been screaming for the Democrats in the Obama administration to jump on this Republican conspiracy to stop voter registration for two years. People have been telling them what they were doing and only just a couple of months ago, Eric Holder started doing something about it and you saw what the outcome of that was. If they were gonna charge this guy for contempt they would have charged this guy anyway, so two years ago they should have been fighting and to be honest, it may be a little too late now.
EBONY: You smell trouble for this upcoming election?
CD: I know a lot of elderly folks who have been saying, “Why do I need another ID, I’ve been voting all my life? I’m 87-years-old and now I gotta go stand in line to get a state ID? I’ve been a taxpayer since I was 17 and now I gotta get a special card to vote.” The Republicans have been playing hit below the belt politics. Obama has been the most disrespected—racially disrespected and vehemently disrespected— president in the history of the country. He’s the president who has had less cooperation from any side of the aisle, more so in the history of the country. When you add up all of those things—all of that bile and rile and resistance to him, you have to surmise that at the end of the day it’s not about policy it’s about what color the man’s skin is, what his name is and even politicians will say that. I was talking to a Connecticut politician [recently] and he was at a rally or some kind of thing about Obama and he said you wouldn’t even believe the racist rants coming from Democrats. So yeah, the film is unapologetically, unashamedly, unabashedly unequivocally a pro-Obama film.
EBONY: Will it motivate people who believe in Obama to vote this time around?
CD: I don’t know what difference it will make. We haven’t gone live yet since we’re doing this ourselves with our own money [but] hopefully we’ll have enough finances to go wider in October, closer to the election. We hope we can in some way reinvigorate people to get out there and do what they did in 2008. I know that same kind of fever and passion is absolutely impossible because that kind of phenomena only comes around once in a lifetime. For my generation and my mother’s generation it was for John F. Kennedy in in 1961.
EBONY: People might be bitter because sometimes, when a candidate like Obama comes along, they forget that he is still a politician like you said, and that reversing damage takes time.
CD: They do forget. I was in South Africa doing the Free Mandela movement and when he was released from prison, there was a huge amount of naiveté there after years of apartheid everybody thought there was gonna be a chicken in the pot and a car outside the door and that’s not the way it has worked. The country has made leaps and bounds since Mandela has been out and since the AMC has taken over but nothing happens fast, and I think in fairness to Obama whatever he ran into a brick wall on the other side of the aisle. There’s never been a perfect president and there never will be but in the case of this president they made sure that nothing in his agenda would be easy. I think some of the Republicans are ashamed of themselves for it but they’re being dictated to by the Tea Party and the extreme right wing of the country and they’re afraid of losing their job etc. However, they know in essence, Washington has always been a compromise. You get things done by compromise. You give us a little something and we’ll give you a little something but they don’t even want to listen to that anymore.
EBONY: Going back to the movie, it’s interesting that you chose Katt Williams to be the key Republican character.
CD: I wanted to be fair on the Republican side of it but after viewing the way they were treating the president, I said ‘why not take this opportunity to be fair when that hasn’t been the reality?’ I could have written a stand-up, everyday Wall Street Black businessman Republican if I wanted to. And that would have been all and well, but I wanted to make the Republican to be a reflection of how ridiculous they’ve been with the hating. Consequently I said, ‘find the most outrageous comic out there’ and we selected Katt Williams. Katt Williams being synonymous with Republican is extremely funny. However, he doesn’t just play a stand up. I wrote him as a character and it’s a complex character who is wrestling with his own political ideals.
EBONY: You already know that Republican critics are going to come for you!
CD: I’m not apologizing for one inch of the frames that come across that screen. They’re my ideas, my vision I wrote it, I directed it and I edited It with my editor but it’s what I wanted to put out there. Had this been a more harmonious, cooperative and compromising four years for the president like it always is for any president—Republican or Democrat—I would have had to write a different movie because I would have said ‘you know what, it’s been fair.’ He was able to get a lot of things accomplished and the country is doing better but the man saves the automobile industry and he’s still criticized, so it’s just amazing. So at that point I said for all the hundreds of millions of dollars that they’re putting into destroying this man, and making sure he’s not elected, then I don’t give a damn about what kind of Republican I put on the screen. I specifically told the costume designers and makeup and hair not to touch Katt Williams. Let him be Katt Williams. That was a cinematic choice because I knew it would be funny but what Katt Williams says in the film is what I wrote.
EBONY: I’m sure the critics just love that, huh?
CD: Already the Right Wing blogs are criticizing the film, which is absolutely lovely. That’s exactly what I wanted and I can’t wait to go on Fox and Friends and Bill O’Reilly and handle those guys because they ain’t gonna be dealing with no chump. They ain’t gonna be dealing with no Black Democrat who’s gonna stay safe. They gonna be dealing with a street n*gga. We didn’t want to do that too early, we wanted to wait until we got closer to the election before I started booking those kinds of things and debating those guys but already the Republican guys are saying that this is a studio-financed film and that the Obama campaign financed film and they should be ashamed of themselves because it’s a propaganda movie but they should start thinking before they talk because the obvious thing is, if this was a Hollywood financed film or an Obama campaign financed film, do you think we would just be opening in 8 damn cities? It would be in 50 cities in 3,000 theaters. There would be a ton of press and they would have spent 30 to 40 million with promoting the film. We didn’t have that kind of dough to promote the movie that way. We did it with a shoestring budget with Black radio and a couple of TV appearances in a couple of cities like Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago so it’s been a grassroots effort. We didn’t want to go to the studio because we didn’t want to be dictated by them, so if the Right Wing blogs would just simply understand that they might have a few other things to say about it,but I expect their ignorance to continue. And that’s fine, because when it’s a safe time, I can use their own ignorance against them.