Barack Obama rode the inaugural train to Washington DC to be sworn in on January 20th - the first black President. To celebrate this first for the U.S., here are 10 other firsts for heads of state. Some are real-life firsts, some are fictions that I hope will come true - and I learned about them all from movies and TV.
First U.S President
George Washington in John Adams
This multi-award winning miniseries starring Paul Giamatti as President John Adams, Laura Linney as his wife Abigail Adams, and David Morse as President George Washington, covers the nation’s first 50 years in seven episodes. It’s a story of tragedy, love, war, friendship, freedom, liberty, and a uniquely American life. And it teaches us an important lesson, well put by Giamatti in his winning speech: “I’m living proof, kids at home watching, that anyone can play the President!”
First actor to become President
Ronald Reagan in Back to the Future
One of the funniest moments in Back to the Future goes like this:
Doc: “Then tell me, “Future Boy,” who’s President of the United States in 1985?”
Marty: “Ronald Reagan.”
Doc: “Ronald Reagan? The actor?!” Laughs and continues, “Then who’s VICE-President? Jerry Lewis??”
Yes, in the pre-reality-TV era, when being a celebrity wasn’t a job qualification, who would have thought that an actor could become President? Ronald Reagan did, two times in a row. A few of his most memorable films are Storm Warning, Bedtime For Bonzo, The Winning Team and his last film The Killers – based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, in which he co-starred alongside Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes. Better actor or President? Depends on your political leanings. When Schwarzenegger said “I’ll be back,” did he have Reagan in mind…?
First assassination of a President
Abraham Lincoln in The Birth of a Nation
Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the U.S to be assassinated (unfortunately he wasn’t the last). In the movie, large-scale battle sequences and meticulous historical details culminate in a recreation of Lincoln’s assassination.
While The Birth of a Nation was a major step forward in the history of filmmaking, it must be noted that the film supports a racist worldview. But there is no denying that it remains a groundbreaking achievement, setting a high mark for film as an art form.
First President to resign
Nixon saw the Vietnam War to an end. He also sets the record as the longest serving individual to have held the two highest executive posts in the U.S. Ironically, he also holds the record of the only U.S. President to ever resign from office, due to the Watergate scandal.
Not exactly inspiring, but still - he’s been depicted in quite a few films dealing with the scandal, the man, or the era: the most memorable being All the President’s Men and Oliver Stone’s Nixon, in which he was portrayed by the famous cannibal Anthony Hopkins.
Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon is the lastest entry in the Nixon filmography and is yet another of his movies that might pick up an Oscar or two. Although a bit slow, it’s a brilliant psychological movie about a man’s downfall, and well worth watching even if you’re not big on history lessons. Frank Langella’s portrayal of Nixon is nothing less than amazing and he might give a good fight to Sean Penn in the best actor category (funny, considering Penn has already been hurt cinematically by Nixon in The Assassination of Richard Nixon).
First (and hopefully last) President with a below-average I.Q.
Many agree that George W. Bush is, was and will be the dumbest President of the U.S. ever. There’s no PC way to say it, especially when Michael Moore has bluntly (and manipulatively) argued it before, in his disturbing Fahrenheit 9/11. Nevertheless, Bush had two terms in office – what does that say…?
Oliver Stone, who likes confronting controversy in American society, history and presidency (JFK, Nixon, Platoon, Born on the 4th of July) contributed his own take on Bush in the intriguing yet financially and critically disappointing W. One can’t help thinking that this was Stone’s way of contributing to Obama’s campaign; otherwise he might not have rushed its release.
First honest (and rapping) President
This one is - unfortunately - still just fiction.
This surprisingly entertaining political comedy features a funny, magnetic Warren Beatty as disillusioned politician Bulworth. He’s arranged his own assassination but decides he wants to live after all – and so he begins to tell the complete truth at all times, not worrying about the repercussions. Oh yes, and he starts rapping….
I don’t know about Obama’s rapping skills, but I do hope he will deliver on his promise for a different politics – and telling the truth could be a good start.
First President of the galaxy
Zaphod Beeblebrox in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Based on the five-book series by Douglas Adams, this is a funny, wacky and highly creative ride through a bizarre universe. Martin Freeman stars as Arthur Dent, a British everyman suddenly thrust into intergalactic intrigue when the earth is destroyed by the Vogons to make room for an interspatial highway. Arthur travels the skyways with good friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), an alien writer for an electronic encyclopedia called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. Things get downright dangerous - and hysterical - when Arthur and Ford thumb a ride with the President of the universe, two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox (a wild and crazy Sam Rockwell).
Why does two-headed president sound like a familiar concept, though not too successful thus far?
First Queen Elizabeth
Trivia: the first Queen Elizabeth was crowned on January 15th 1559, 450 years (and six days) before Barack Obama.
This movie tells the story of Queen Elizabeth I from her early days as an innocent young woman, to her coronation, to the forming of her reputation as England’s stern “Virgin Queen.” Elizabeth is a lush portrait of history, full of pomp, intrigue, and romance, with colorful direction, and mostly anchored by Kate Blanchett’s award-winning performance.
So if Queens could rule so many years ago, why is it taking the U.S. more than 200 years to come up with a female president…?
First female President
Commander In Chief
Starring Geena Davis as the President, Commander In Chief was the first TV show or movie with a female U.S President. Few female presidents exist in fiction. Prison Break suggested one too, but there she started as vice president conspiring for the presidency and it was a rather minor role. Maybe if more filmmakers dared to make their presidents female, there’d be one in real life sooner. For now, it remains to be seen if the new female president on 24’s 7th season will contribute to realizing the idea, just as the show arguably contributed to the idea of a black president (in one of 2008 pre-election surveys, David Palmer was voted the most popular black presidential character).
First black President
After a series of coincidences, including the death of the President and the refusal of the Vice President to take over due to poor health, Senator Douglas Dilman (James Earl Jones) becomes the first black (cinematic) President. After this movie came Deep Impact, 24, Head of State and Idiocracy, all movies in which the President of the U.S. was black. Maybe those movies and shows made a small contribution to the public’s readiness for a black President… In any case, I would like to believe that popular art can foresee - and make - change!
Good luck Barack! Techcrunch has a nice list of resources for watching the inauguration here.
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