“2016: Obama’s America”
Obama’s America Foundation
1 hour, 27 minutes
Dinesh D’Souza is a hack. I know, there are some out there that are saying, “What? No! He’s a muckraking crusader! He’s the Right’s answer to Michael Moore!”
Of course, there are more of you saying, “Who the heck is Dinesh D’Souza?” — which is as it should be. The director and writer of the recent Barack Obama “documentary,” “2016: Obama’s America” deserves nothing less than to return to the doldrums of obscurity from whence he came.
Full disclosure: I am a Barack Obama fan. I voted for him once and will likely do so again. I am perfectly primed to disagree with a negative exposé on the President. My criticism, however, has nothing to do with my politics. On the merits of the movie alone, as a piece of documentary filmmaking, “2016: Obama’s America” is just plain terrible.
D’Souza clearly thinks of himself as a counterpart to Michael Moore. Not only is he the writer/director, but he’s also the star. The film starts out with some background. D’Souza, like Obama, is the child of immigrants and of similar age and comparable background. He shows this, I imagine, to establish his bona fides, that our Dinesh is qualified to dissect Barack Obama because, but for the vagaries of fate, he could have been Barack Obama. D’Souza then proceeds to outline Obama’s background, crushing the birther movement in one fell swoop by announcing “Barack Obama Jr. was born on August 4, 1961, in a hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii.” Take that, Donald Trump!
The first third of the film is actually pretty interesting, if still pretty hacky. D’Souza manages to explain who Obama’s father was, what his relationship to Obama’s mother was, and how and why he was in the country. He establishes clearly how young Obama came to idolize an absent father, over the less-than-stable father that the boy’s mother had chosen as a replacement. D’Souza then goes on to show, how crushed an older Obama was to learn that the untarnished father he believed he had was actually just a man after all, and a fairly flawed man at that. D’Souza decently illustrates a whole swath of Barack Obama’s childhood, mostly because he’s quoting directly from Barack Obama’s own memoirs, “Dreams From My Father.”
The first part of the movie is tolerable, even interesting at times, if annoyingly over-produced. It is in the middle part of the movie that things really start to go awry. It is here that D’Souza’s analysis turns from an exploration for truth into a high-school understanding of pop psychology. Because Barack Obama at one time put his absent father on a pedestal, he must secretly wish to somehow become that father, or at least fulfill the potential that father possessed.
What potential is that? To bring down colonial empires. To destroy America’s power in the world, and to spread Socialism, maybe even ... gasp! ... Communism! Why, exactly, are we to believe that this is Obama’s plan? Your guess is as good as mine. Without a shred of actual evidence, D’Souza proceeds to travel the globe, meeting with people who have either tenuous connections to the president, or with fringe people who simply disagree with his policies. Interviews consist of leading questions, half-answers, and even outright disagreement, to which D’Souza nods knowingly, as though pieces of a puzzle are all falling into place.
The problem is that there are no pieces — there doesn’t even appear to be a puzzle. At one point, D’Souza interviews a man in Africa who may well have been one of Barack Obama Sr.’s best friends. The old man never knew the president, but he obviously knew and loved the father, a man who, it’s been established, was somewhat of a radical. The old man also clearly loves Obama, which is not a surprise considering our president is one of the most popular people in the world. When asked if he thought Barack Sr. would be proud of Barack Jr., the old man nods enthusiastically. D’Souza nods knowingly.
This is the type of damning evidence the director has to offer. Dinesh D’Souza has taken a few well-known facts about Obama — that he grew up without his father and spent much of his childhood abroad — added some emotional elements from the President’s own words, and has drawn wildly illogical conclusions. I can do that, too. Let’s see ... Obama is a lawyer. He lived in Chicago. He smokes. Conclusion: Barack Obama is a secret member of the mafia. The health care law will inevitably lead to greater control of public health, concluding with the complete illegalization of tobacco. At which point, Barack Obama will stand to make millions, maybe even billions, as a cigarette bootlegger.
Or, if that doesn’t make sense, how about this: Obama is rich. He grew up without his father. He fought for justice (lawyer again.) Obviously, he’s a super-hero. He may even actually be Batman, but I can’t be 100 percent sure.
By the end of the film things have completely gone off the rails. D’Souza, erroneously believing he’s got us on the hook with his fanciful theories, spins a nightmare scenario of Obama’s next term. Choking debt leads to a destroyed economy. Muslim-friendly foreign policy leads to the crushing of Israel by the United States of Islam. The film ends with a frightened little boy reading a history book that list the American Era as ending in 2016.
Wow. I can imagine what some of my friends on the Right are probably thinking at this point. Michael Moore does the same thing and gets nominated for an Oscar. No, he doesn’t. Yes, Moore is biased. And yes, he spins the facts to make the conclusions come out the way he wants. But he starts with facts. Meticulously researched facts. Massaged conclusions, yes, but built on real data, not vague psychological speculation. And as a director, Moore knows what he’s doing. He builds tension, uses graphics judiciously, and manages to let people swing using their own words. Sometimes he goes too far — ambushing an obviously diminished Charleton Heston at his home to harass him about the NRA was wrong, but usually he’s effective.
Purely as a filmmaker, D’Souza doesn’t know when to quit. His graphics are non-stop and overwhelming. Each interview seems as if it were conducted using multiple cameras from a dozen angles. At three separate points D’Souza actually “phones in” the interview, the result being we see both sides of the conversation — the interviewee on one phone and D’Souza on another, nodding knowingly. Why?
“2016: Obama’s America” is the worst kind of political propaganda because it preys on people who are disposed to be fearful about the direction of our country. And it does so without any solid basis. D’Souza hopes that he can fire up the faithful with slick graphics and convoluted theories, and is betting on the fact that they will overlook the obvious lack of any real research. He trots out worn-out old bogeymen like Rev. Jeremiah Wright and that Weather Underground guy, but he never actually uncovers anything of substance about the president himself. This makes “2016” about as hollow as D’Souza himself.
“2016: Obama’s America” is rated PG for some scary music and frightening folderol.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.