Last night, I took my wife to see 2016, Obama’s America, the movie based upon the book by (and “starring”) Dinesh D'Souza. There have been some very thorough and accurate criticisms here of D’Souza’s slanted biography of Obama, allegations and predictions, to which I can add little. Ian Reifowitz’s, angry marmot’s, and vyan’s DKos diaries challenge D’Souza and his work skillfully. Still, I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and to check out the other audience members. Here’s my report.
To be certain to lend no support - financial or otherwise - to D’Souza’s efforts to attack the President, we bought tickets for ParaNorman which started at the same time in the next theater down the hall. It was early Saturday evening in a small semi-urban area of North Georgia, and there were a few football games on cable, so I didn’t expect a large crowd. But there were maybe 14 people, seven couples, in the audience; not one was under 40, and most appeared to be in their 50s and 60s. I can usually read people pretty well, and I saw most as highschool-educated middle-class people, not immediately obvious as right-wing-nuts (nor as progressive-minded interlopers). Nobody looked particularly happy (as if they expected to be entertained or empassioned) before the film began, and the looks on their faces were essentially unchanged as the theater emptied. Apart from an occasional stifled “yes!” or “hah!” the meager audience was silent throughout.
D’Souza’s main argument is that Obama grew up strongly influenced by anti-colonialists, and that his absent father was heralded as an exemplar of that doctrine; I suspect there’s a lot of truth to that argument. To his credit, D’Souza states quite clearly that Obama was born in Hawaii, not Kenya. But he nonetheless insists that, even today, Obama is primarily motivated by anti-colonialist dogma to which he was exposed during his youth, and that this has rendered him anti-capitalist and anti-American. D’Souza misrepresents Obama’s book, Dreams From my Father, as stating that, after his father’s death, Barack took on Obama Sr.’s dream as his own. Obama, depicted kneeling by his father’s grave, is correctly quoted as saying he feels as if he has come “full-circle,” but D’Souza’s suggestion that the father’s dream commandeered the son’s is unsupported, and probably fallacious. In suggesting this, the author/filmmaker really only adds one more label to the fictitious list of Obama’s flaws and failings (alongside Muslim, socialist, communist).
A strong case is made for anti-colonialist ideologies and rhetoric having been present in Obama’s childhood and university studies, and we are led to believe that he never transcended these influences. But I found myself speculating that as Obama individuated from his mother in his adolescence and grieved the father he never really knew (but had been led to emulate) as a young adult, he rejected most of the more radical tenets of anticolonialism. The humanistic opposition to colonialism appears to have manifested as a powerful commitment to human rights, nurtured in a spirit of conscientiousness and responsibility in our president. But there is no evidence that he actually promoted or practiced their radical principles.
During the movie, I kept wanting to whisper to my wife “this is all he’s got?” Stuff I’ve seen/heard on Fox is typically much more outrageous, inflammatory, malicious. I found the retelling of Obama’s family history rather interesting, and concluded that his personal heritage is much more rich than most people realize. As a psychologist, I considered the hypotheses regarding the formation of Obama’s beliefs and motivations quite simplistic and shallow.
So, what will this movie bring to the campaigning and election? Currently it is at 79% among general audiences (preached-to choirs) but 30% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. A few quotes from reviwers:
The film is a sleepy dud, a polemic that, like D'Souza himself, is at once both outrageous and deeply boring. Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
The film flutters to the ground like so much GOP convention confetti, all assertions, few facts and little substance other than the conspiratorial right wing talking points that are D'Souza's bread and butter. Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
. . . a sluggish film. Even its outrage falls flat. Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
A nonsensically unsubstantiated act of character assassination. Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Viewers may do some headscratching. Mark Feeney, Boston GlobeIt’s my guess that people who go to the film are far more likely to be Republicans who have had their minds made up long before 2012. But there are no earth-shattering revelations here, only another flimsy and flawed argument for voting Obama out of the White House. I predict it will do little to further empower the right-wing-nut base (with Fox News already seeing to that). Liberals, if they actually see it, may encounter more of Obama's biography and character that compel an even stronger committment to his support; few will be alarmed or concerned that their leader's candidacy will be significantly hurt by the movie. And undecided voters - if they still exist in this dreadfully toxic and polarized political environment - who see the movie are unlikely to take D’Souza’s dire predictions seriously enough to let them influence their perceptions of Obama meaningfully. In fact, I suspect many will take from it little of the intended paranoid doubt and fear, and may find greater appreciation and admiration for Obama.