By the People: The Election of Barack Obama

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
By the People:  The Election of Barack Obama Movie Poster Image
Slow-paced, one-dimensional docu captures historic election.
  • NR
  • 2009
  • 116 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The election of the first African-American president was historically significant and worth documenting. Grassroots involvement is the key to affecting change; it's what enabled an underdog to eventually be elected president of the U.S.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Campaign workers of diverse ethnicities work and interact well with each other. All are hardworking and dedicated. Barack Obama is a charismatic leader who emphasizes the importance of change through grassroots movements. He's unfailingly polite, tireless, and thoughtful both of others and about issues. Michelle Obama is supportive and works hard for the campaign.


A few brief mentions of violence, such as terrorism or throwing rocks through windows.


"F--ked" once, "s--t," "crap," "asshole," "damn," "holy s--t," "sucks," "dips--t."


Incidental name-brand water bottles and soft drinks visible. Mac laptops occasionally shown in use. A lingering shot of a Toyota logo on the steering wheel during a driving scene.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A prominent campaign worker asks for a beer in celebration on election night.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that By the People: The Election of Barack Obama is a documentary about Obama's first campaign for president. The only content of concern is some strong language (one "f--ked," "s--t," and variations a number of times), but tweens and under are unlikely to enjoy the slow pace for the nearly two-hour duration. Best for teens and up who appreciate the historic significance of electing the first African-American president or for budding politicos who'd enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at running an underdog's national election campaign. Everyone is shown in a positive light; instead of a tell-all, it's an attempt to capture the important moments of a historic political campaign from the point of view of those most closely involved.

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What's the story?

From the earliest days of an unknown senator from Illinois to the final count on election night, cameras follow Barack Obama's first presidential campaign.

Is it any good?

This is a documentary about the historic significance of electing the first African-American president of the United States. If you're looking for a neutral examination of the man, his campaign, or his politics, you won't find it here. Everyone in it, from the candidate to staffers to volunteers in small states is painted in a positive light. Budding politicos seeking to appreciate an important milestone in U.S. political history may enjoy it, especially if they're patient.

The story develops much too slowly, especially given that we already know how it ends. A few campaign issues are mentioned, but none is explored in depth. The people in the film are clearly aware of the cameras, and many scenes feel staged thanks to the lack of spontaneous and genuine behavior. Where the movie does capture genuine emotion is among those supporters who are overcome by the significance of Obama's success and eventual election. If only some of that feeling could have been sustained over more of the film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about running for president. What do you think the best part would be? What would be the hardest part?

  • Did it surprise you that a 9-year-old boy volunteered for Obama's campaign? Have you ever thought about volunteering for a candidate? Why, or why not?

  • Do you think this documentary paints a fair, unbiased picture of Obama and his campaign? Should it? Why, or why not?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love politics

Themes & Topics

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