There were 16 people at the Saturday noon showing at the Loews Cherry Hill of 2016: Obama's America, but Dinesh D'Souza's slickly packaged political documentary clearly performed better in some of its 1,000-plus other locations nationwide. According to weekend box office estimates, the anti-Obama film, released to coincide with the Republican convention, was making a relatively strong showing alongside The Expendables 2 and Premium Rush.
Preaching to the choir, and quoting from the choir - D'Souza's interviewees include conservative think-tankers, commentators and academics - the film asks the question "If Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?," then posits some disturbing answers. Disturbing, but dubious.
D'Souza, stars in, narrates, and conducts the interviews (some via cellphone) in 2016, which expands on the controversial premise of his book, The Roots of Obama's Rage, and a 2010 Forbes article, "How Obama Thinks." Basically, D'Souza - who opens with a genial checklist of similarities between himself and the president (age, mixed-race heritage, Ivy League education) - suggests that Obama is running the country based on the radical geopolitical tenets laid down by his Kenyan father in the 1960s, a father Obama hardly knew.
Here's how D'Souza, an Indian-American evangelical Christian who introduces himself in the film as "a writer, speaker, thinker," concluded his Forbes piece: "Our President is trapped in his father's time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father's dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost."
Obama "candidly" admitting he is living out his father's dream is a reference, of course, to the president's bestselling memoir, Dreams from My Father, excerpts of which are read in the film, by D'Souza or by Obama himself, from the CD edition.
In a sit-down with NYU psychologist Paul Vitz, D'Souza hears the professor's thoughts on absent fathers and how they can shape the psyche and thinking of their sons. He goes from there to paint a picture of a world where the nations of the Middle East, including Libya, Syria and Iran, band into "the United States of Islam," threatening the security of the United States and the world. The film, co-directed by D'Souza and John Sullivan (who produced Ben Stein's 2008 doc about creationism), deploys an animated graphic similar to the creeping-Communism maps of Southeast Asia that were used to justify the war in Vietnam.
Obama, it is implied, is deliberately making America more vulnerable to attack from Muslim extremists. No mention is made of the fact that it was under Obama's watch that Osama bin Laden was killed.
D'Souza travels to Indonesia, where Obama lived with his mother as a boy (and where D'Souza sits at a street cafe, reading Obama's book), and to Nairobi, where he unsuccessfully seeks out an interview with Sarah Obama, the president's aunt, but does score a park-bench chat with George Obama, his half-brother. The filmmaker tries to elicit rage from the semi-sibling, who appears to live in a shantytown setting, about Barack Obama not doing more to take care of him.
The documentary isn't all theory and conjecture. An interview with David M. Walker, the U.S. comptroller general from 1998 to 2008, presents a sobering picture of the national debt and what it might portend for our future. Author and commentator Shelby Steele makes some provocative, pointed observations about the role race played in Obama's election. And footage of a town hall-style meeting in which the president fumbles - and fumbles, and fumbles - in his attempt to explain the economic benefits of his Affordable Care Act should warm the hearts of Obamacare foes.
But even the staunchest anti-Obama factions should be wary of the fallacious content flying around in D'Souza's film.
2016: Obama’s America
Directed by Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan. With Dinesh D'Souza, Shelby Steele, Paul Vitz, Daniel Pipes, George Obama and others. Distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 mins.
Parent’s guide: PG (adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters