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Malia Obama labelled ‘nepo baby’ in mixed first reviews for debut short film

Former First Daughter screened her short film ‘The Heart’ at last month’s Sundance Film Festival

Inga Parkel
Thursday 22 February 2024 06:21 GMT
Malia Obama speaks about her new film ‘The Heart’ at Sundance Film Festival

The first reactions are in for former First Daughter Malia Obama’s directorial debut, and the consensus seems to be quite mixed.

The eldest daughter of former US President Barack Obama, who is going by the stage name Malia Anne (her first and middle names), screened her debut short film, The Heart, at last month’s Sundance Film Festival.

Starring Tunde Adebimpe and Latonya Borsay, the 18-minute short written and directed by Malia is about a grieving man who receives an unusual request from his mother in her will.

In Malia’s own words, the film “is about lost objects and lonely people and forgiveness and regret”.

“But I also think it works hard to uncover where tenderness and closeness can exist in these things,” she said in a “Meet the Artist” video from the festival, which revealed her to be behind the pseudonym.

While most of the reviews have averaged around three stars on the popular social movie platform Letterboxd, with many praising its visuals, others have dismissed the 25-year-old’s efforts by branding her a “nepo baby”.

“Calling yourself ‘Malia Ann’ is not going to avert any Nepo Baby criticisms, Miss Former First Daughter,” one critic wrote.

“Wish this had enough merit to not just be ‘the short directed by one of Obama’s kids’ but this was just sort of mid,” said another. “I did like some of the cinematography!”

“I can’t tell if I’m just being critical bc Malia Obama wrote and directed this or if it was actually just meh,” a second added.

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“As a film… fine. Honestly I recognize a lot of the same issues with my last short film in this film (trying to be a bit picaresque, a little bit episodic when IMO shorts should get to the f***ing point). I mean seriously you have one idea and it’s the heart on the bus,” a third wrote. “Issue here is honestly that this kid just doesn’t get to fail. Your first short film has a s***load of money thrown at it Donald glover producing and you walk into Sundance.”

Other reviewers were more favourable, with one writing: “Watched at Sundance Film Festival. Saw Malia Obama in a Q&A and she explained that she wanted to tell the story of the film as a fable. That grocery monologue in the street was incredible and I loved the lighting, whoever was the gaffer, you did a great job keep it up!”

“While initially distressing, this was a really touching film. Several genius subtle editing choices as well,” one praised, while another agreed: “Interesting and visuals are lovely.”

The 2021 Harvard University alum, who graduated with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies, previously worked as a writer on Donald Glover’s Prime Video series Swarm. Malia has also worked as an intern on the HBO series Girls, as well as a production assistant on the TV series Extant, starring Halle Berry.

In addition to Malia, Barack and Michelle Obama are also parents to 22-year-old daughter Sasha, who graduated from the University of Southern California in May with a degree in sociology.

Malia and Sasha were just 10 and seven respectively, when they moved into the White House following their father’s 2008 election win. They were 18 and 15 by the end of their father’s second term in 2017.

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