Former President Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

After the last four years, it’s tempting—for some of us, anyway—to look back at the Obama presidency as a golden era of hope and progress. Which, in some ways, it was. But as the trailer for HBO’s new three-part documentary Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union makes clear, there is far more to the story than that. The series, which premieres on August 3, aims to show us a “cohesive picture of America under its first Black president.” From his rise as a community organizer in Chicago to the surge of optimism upon his presidential election in 2008 to the unremitting obstructionism of congressional Republicans lead by Mitch McConnell during his presidency, the doc highlights the fine line Barack Obama had to walk as a politician and as a leader.

As New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb says in the trailer, “He’s trying to find middle ground, only to realize that the Republicans don’t want him to be successful in any way.”

Whatever could have been behind such blatant obstructionism? Through interviews with Cobb, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the late Representative John Lewis, historian Henry Lewis Gates Jr., Keegan-Michael Key, David Axelrod, New Yorker editor David Remnick and others, Emmy winning director Peter Kunhardt makes clear the role that race played in shaping the Obama presidency.

Despite a complicated legacy, Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union looks to be as inspiring as its subject. Coates probably sums it up best: “Obama gets flack for the first Black presidency only being symbolic. But people underate the value of symbols.”