Indonesian Filmmaker Drops Scene of Young Obama Praying Towards Mecca (Video)
Indonesian filmmaker Damien Dematra decided at the last minute to drop the scene of Barack Obama praying towards Mecca.
While Damien Dematra, an Indonesian artist, has penned at least 60 books, produced 27 films and once painted 365 paintings over the span of a year, it’s his most recent work that’s made the most headlines. Two books and a movie that he wrote and co-directed (which debuted June 30), are about Barack Obama’s childhood in Indonesia. Obama Anak Menteng, or Obama the Menteng Kid, may be a fictionalized account, but it’s grounded in Dematra’s real reporting. The film explores just one year, 1970, of Obama’s past, which the filmmaker says played an important role in forming the 44th president’s character. Originally, the movie was to open in Indonesia in conjunction with Obama’s visit there. And though he’s had to postpone that visit several times, starting this week, Indonesians will be able to get a peek of their “Little Barry.” A few hours before the big premiere, Dematra spoke to TIME about the film.
Having researched Obama’s young years, what do you think he learned from his time in Indonesia?
He learned a lot. I also wrote a book published this month called Obama Dari Asisi about his time [at the St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Elementary School]. That period is really different. In Assisi, he was educated for almost three years. In the Menteng school, which is a state school, he was educated with a Muslim influence. He learned that religion is alright and that it’s fine to be different. A lot of people now consider him an icon of pluralism. Thank Indonesia for that.
How close is the movie and the book to Obama’s real childhood in Indonesia?
I interviewed around 30 people to make the novel, and so there are plenty of dots. I used my expertise as a writer to connect all the dots. It’s around 60 percent facts and 40 percent fiction. […]
You decided not to film a scene of the young Obama praying toward Mecca. Why did you make that choice?
It’s in the book. They were trying to use it as a political weapon against the president. It’s not that the president needs to be defended, but they were taking this scene out of context. In the book, while at Assisi, he was always trying to blend in. He went to the priest and tried to grab the bread for Catholic mass. He asks for the bread but he’s not eligible. And in Menteng Shool, when he saw his friends praying in a small mosque inside the school, he borrowed a sarong from his friends. He was trying to imitate his friends, but his sarong kept falling down. His friends couldn’t pray at the time because they were laughing. Every time he stood up his sarong fell off. He was not used to it, not used to the praying. He was just a kid who wanted to blend in. He tried to imitate whatever his friends tried to do. When he saw people praying in a Church, he tried the same thing. People want to take the scene out of context and want to use it as evidence that he’s a Muslim. That’s just not fair….
Hat Tip Brian B.