Whoopi Goldberg Comes To The Defense Of Malia Obama's Name Change

Malia Obama made a big change to her famous name when she launched her filmmaking career, and her directorial debut at the Sundance Film Festival has brought this career choice into the spotlight. She decided to drop her presidential surname but kept her middle name intact; she's listed as "Malia Ann" in the credits of her most recent work.

Malia hasn't piped up to explain the change as of this writing, but it seems unlikely that the move is related to any beef with her parents, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. As reported by The New York Post, there's been a lot of speculation that she simply wants to avoid being deemed a "nepo baby" for using the legacy attached to her surname to get a leg up in Hollywood. However, she's been unable to avoid being linked to the former president and first lady in every piece written about her short film "The Heart" — and it undoubtedly would not be getting so much press if it wasn't the work of a young woman who grew up in the White House.

Some Letterboxd users have suggested that Malia's upbringing actually hurt the film, which is about a grieving man who carries out his mother's final request in a setting far from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "I think this is what happens when you make a film that implies you know something about life when you really don't," one review read. Others expressed amusement over Malia's name change, but many understand why it's a valid career move. Whoopi Goldberg, for one, doesn't understand why people are getting so worked up about it.

Whoopi Goldberg also changed her name

Criticizing Malia Obama's work is one matter, but as Whoopi Goldberg argued on "The View," trying to use her name change against her is a futile enterprise. "If she knows she's an Obama, why do you care?" the co-host said. "Why do you care what she calls herself? ... If I can be Whoopi Goldberg, she can be whoever the hell she wants to be." 

Goldberg's birth name is Caryn Elaine Johnson, and she's just one of the many celebs who is now known by a different moniker. There's even a star who once found himself in a similar situation as Obama. "Moonstruck" actor Nicolas Cage ditched his surname, Coppola, because he didn't want people to know that his uncle is acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola.

Of course, Cage's situation was a bit different because he was trying to get work in Hollywood before the internet age — anyone who watched "The Heart" without knowing that it was directed by an Obama would find this information out immediately upon Googling the title. However, Goldberg still doesn't get why there's such a big fuss. "I mean, why are people triggered by this kind of stuff?" she said. Her co-host Alyssa Farah Griffin also pointed out that Malia was in a no-win situation when she decided to pursue a career in the entertainment business; had she kept her last name, she would have been accused of using it to her advantage. 

Donald Glover's warning for Malia Obama

Maybe Donald Glover's warning for Malia Obama had something to do with why the Harvard grad made some small effort to distance herself from her influential father and mother. She worked in the writers' room on Glover's Amazon Prime Video series "Swarm," and the "Atlanta" creator apparently liked what he saw from her — he produced "The Heart" through his production company, Gilga. In an interview with GQ, Glover revealed that he placed an emphasis on Malia's parentage when giving her a pep talk about the importance of putting out quality work. "The first thing we did was talk about the fact that she will only get to do this once. You're Obama's daughter. So if you make a bad film, it will follow you around," he said.

"The Heart" has a 3.2-star rating on Letterboxd as of this writing, so it's considered far from terrible by those who've seen it. And while some critics might be convinced that Obama's short film submission was only accepted by Sundance because of her connections, others believe that "The Heart" was at least deserving of being shown at the festival. "I think people are being deliberately hard on this one because it was Malia Obama's," one commenter wrote. "Yeah it wasn't perfect but it definitely stands up with the rest of the Sundance shorts I've seen so far, I enjoyed it."