If box office success is any indication of the voting mood of the nation, the commercial success of 2016: Obama’s America, an anti-Obama vehicle by Dinesh D’Souza, is worth noting. The film, based loosely on D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, is now the second-highest grossing political “documentary” of all time behind another election-year film, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.
In July, distributors premiered the film in Houston, not Los Angeles or New York. Randy Slaughter, president of Rocky Mountain Pictures, the film’s distributor, explained the unorthodox rollout to The New York Times, “We needed to find a place where we could get the most attention. You hunt where the ducks are.”
The film stars writer Dinesh D’Souza, president of The King’s College, an evangelical Christian school in midtown Manhattan, as host and auteur, sharing his own story of post colonial youth in India and juxtaposing it with Obama’s Kenyan roots. D’Souza is known for attention grabbing hyperbolic political statements that are eaten up by the right wing talk shows. He paints Obama as the ultimate outsider hoping to fulfill the dreams of his anti-colonialist father by “downsizing America” in his second term, if re-elected.
The film underscores the idea that Obama must be stopped; beginning with the on-screen message used in the movie poster and advertising campaign: “Love him / Hate Him: You Don’t Know Him.” With ominous sounding music playing in the background, D’Souza intones, “We are all shaped by our pasts…” Next we hear Obama reading from his autobiography Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, in the first of a number of cherry picked passages, many taken out of context. D’Souza ups the ante with an analysis of Obama’s absent-father syndrome by interviewing a psychologist and concluding that this “insecure kid is now president of the United States.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman wrote in a blistering review that the film is an “outrageously unsubstantiated act of character assassination. …”
“The basic thesis of 2016: Obama’s America makes almost no sense, to the point that a lot of viewers may be tempted to laugh it off. Yet here’s how politics now works: The argument doesn’t have to make sense, because D’Souza’s underlying message is that Obama is a stranger, a man you “don’t know,” a refugee from another land, another culture. Deep down, he’s an angry Third World upstart just like his father. By now, most of us understand that the “birther” theory — the preposterously unfactual notion that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States — is really a code for race. And what’s insidious about 2016: Obama’s America is that the whole movie, in a sense, is code for the birther theory. It never says: Obama wasn’t born here. But it signifies that he might as well not have been.”
The film’s producer, Gerald Molen, who was also a producer on several Steven Spielberg movies, called the racism charge “patently ridiculous” in an interview with Mediaite last week:
“Absolutely nothing contained in the film that implies racism,” he said, adding that the film’s director D’Souza is an Indian American, and “if I were racist, I wouldn’t be aligning myself with him.”
Molen believes that Gleiberman’s charges reflect a common problem among the political left: “If you can’t say anything factual, they resort to the racism line.”
Still, as one blogger on IndieWire mused, “let’s be totally honest here: do you really think that if Obama were, say, a white guy named O’Bama, who could trace his family to County Cork, would such a documentary exist in the first place? Yeah, I don’t think so either.”
The Obama campaign issued a statement on its Truth Team Blog earlier this month calling the film “an insidious attempt to dishonestly smear the president.”
Despite impressive ticket sales and raves from the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, the film has been panned by most film critics. According to Joe Leydon of Variety, the film is “a cavalcade of conspiracy theories, psycho-politico conjectures and incendiary labeling.” It seems far more likely to be seen by conservatives who are firmly opposed to Obama’s re-election than the undecided. And remember, if history is any guide, as popular as Moore’s Fahrenheit was during the summer of 2004 — making nearly four times as much as 2016 — George W. Bush was still re-elected.
Have you seen this film? Tell us what you think.