Obama to appear in interview with Olusoga on BBC1

Obama to appear in interview with Olusoga on BBC1

Penguin Random House UK has revealed a major BBC TV and radio package it has been working on with the BBC for A Promised Land will include an interview between Barack Obama and historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, to be broadcast on BBC1 on Wednesday (18th November). Meanwhile Obama himself will read an abridged version of his book as BBC Radio 4's "Book of the Week" in December.

In an exclusive UK broadcast interview, the former President of the United States will be interviewed by Olusoga in a special programme–"Barack Obama Talks To David Olusoga"–commissioned by BBC Arts and airing on BBC One on Wednesday at 7.30 p.m. 

In the 30-minute special, Obama will discuss A Promised Land, and his motivations for writing the book as well as the challenges he faced confronting political, cultural and racial divisions in America, as the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Following the BBC1 broadcast, the programme will be made available on BBC Radio 4 in a special audio recording introduced by Olusoga on Thursday 19th November at 9 a.m. Audiences will also be able to listen to a longer version of the interview on-demand on BBC Sounds.

The programme will be broadcast internationally by BBC World Service Radio on Thursday 19th November and BBC World News and BBC News Channel on Saturday 21st November and Sunday 22nd November. 

Olusoga said: "Meeting Barack Obama to discuss his memoirs is a great honour. To be interviewing him now–at the end of a year in which race and racism and the histories that lie behind them have been at the centre of global events–seems fitting. My interview with the former president will highlight the obstacles he faced as president and ask whether his optimism in what he calls the 'possibility of America' has been challenged in recent years."

Jonty Claypole, director of BBC Arts, said: "We’re thrilled to have commissioned an exclusive UK broadcast interview with Barack Obama for BBC Arts. Ever since the publication of Dreams from My Father 25 years ago, Obama’s books are masterpieces of political memoir and autobiography. Having the opportunity to bring him face-to-face with David Olusoga, one of our foremost social historians and broadcasters, at the end of a year that has been defined by Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, and one of the most fiercely-fought American elections in history, promises to be deeply illuminating."

From 14th December (09:45 a.m. – 10 a.m.), BBC Radio 4 will broadcast an abridged reading of A Promised Land, read by Obama himself, serialised over two weeks as Radio 4’s "Book of the Week". The memoir is a journey from Barack Obama’s earliest political aspirations through to the watershed night of 8th November 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States and his first term in the presidency, encompassing a global financial crisis, the Affordable Care Act and events abroad, including Operation Neptune’s Spear, which led to the death of Osama bin Laden. All 10 parts will be available on BBC Sounds immediately after the first part has aired.

Over the weekend, Obama appeared in interview on CBS about the book, during which he spoke about "obstructionist attitudes" he had to deal with from day one trying to work with Congress, and frustration with the pace of change, realising "the federal government, headed by the president, is an ocean liner; it is not a speedboat".

During the interview he said further of his perceived outspokeness in opposing Donald Trump during Joe Biden's campaign: "I was not the person who at a White House briefing room, said, 'Is bleach the way to solve Covid?' I wasn't doing a routine. I was repeating words that I heard. It is not my preference to be out there. I think we were in a circumstance in this election in which certain norms, certain institutional values that are so extraordinarily important, had been breached – that it was important for me, as somebody who had served in that office, to simply let people know, 'This is not normal.'" He added of the close-run election result: "What it says is that we are still deeply divided. The power of that alternative world view that's presented in the media that those voters consume, it carries a lot of weight."

Reviews of the book have continued to be published over the weekend. CNN's Peter Bergen wrote: "Trump hangs over Obama's moving, beautifully written memoir of his first three years in office like an onrushing train that both the reader and author know is hurtling down the tracks to collide with what Obama hoped to achieve." The New York Times' Jennifer Szalai wrote that the narrative's 700 pages are "as deliberative, measured and methodical as the author himself", characterising it in contrast to Dreams from my Father as "necessarily less intimate and more political, offering close-up views of the major issues that Obama faced during his first term, including the economic stimulus, health care, immigration, the environment and the forever war in Afghanistan".

The UK media campaign kicked off this weekend with a co-serialisation of A Promised Land in the Sunday Times and Times, and with TV advertising set to follow this week.