Director: Dinesh D'Souza, John Sullivan
Runtime: 90 minutes
I’m not sure what to make of the core argument of 2016: Obama’s America, a film with exotic locations and a logic that seems to fall apart as it hurls towards its final act of “2016.” I am weary of any film that ends with a credit telling me how to feel, or summing up what I’ve learned or should have learned. Here we depart from the theatre with the film’s title followed by: “Love Him. Hate Him. Now You Know Him.”
Let’s apply this to our host, conservative scholar Dinesh D’Souza, who employs the style of a quasi-fireside chat, credited as a co-director (with John Sullivan, producer of the pro-intelligent design documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed). This movie is essentially an essay film, in which D’Souza traces his own background traveling from India to a BA at Dartmouth College, contemplating what his life might have been had he not come to the U.S. He imagines it to be awful — forgetting the current Indian economic boom that’s lead to a rise of a middle class (while ours in the U.S. is shrinking).
But back to the film: can we trust an essay film that right-off-the-bat missteps? The film is heavily polished as D’Souza travels Obama’s footsteps (we suppose), having fire side chats with conservative thinkers uncovering figures that may or may not have influenced President Obama and his degree in “Oppression Studies” from the school of Frank Marshall Davis and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. This isn’t God Bless America, this is God Damn America.
D’Souza doubles back to Kenya, following in the footsteps of another underwhelming documentary, The Education of Auma Obama (which should have been a short film), to the grave of Barack Obama, Sr., an absentee father and the subject of President Obama’s book Dreams From My Father.
In the satirical comedy The Campaign a book Will Ferrell’s Cam Brady wrote in the 3rd grade becomes fodder for an attack, proposing the redistribution of wealth with magical unicorns. Here D’Souza hits rock bottom, attacking anyone Obama has met, sinking to an all-time low in an interview with George Obama. He grills one of Obama Sr.’s many offsprings as to why his brother hasn’t ‘taken care of him.’ Fifteen years ago, did D’Souza go annoy Roger Clinton? Often D’Souza’s presence, nodding along, or participating in some “ritual” in a foreign land is unintentionally comic. He lacks the humor of his counterpart Michael Moore, without engaging in those stunts that sometimes undermine what Moore does.
Now that that is out of the way, is it possible to enter the film without baggage? I think so, and we can pick apart any argument we disagree with. For one, it’s ironic that this film is essentially pro-Colonial power, attacking Obama as an anti-Colonialist, but made by someone whose very history is tied to colonial oppression. Not everyone is of the means and support structure to make it to Dartmouth from the slums of India (although we know very little in a story that is overly simplified and told in reenactments).
Essentially this is a longer form version of a Fox News documentary with something to say. D’Souza is perhaps no different than Rachel Maddow (although she has a sense of humor), but it comes down to what you believe before you enter the theatre. I did glean new information but often thought “yeah, so what?” upon learning this or that. Having been exposed to this film, will this somehow impact my overall ideology? Nope. But using D’Souza logic, it might. Well then, let’s not read any books, meet any people, disown our parents and, of course, avoid seeing films with an ideology.
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