Love him or hate him, you don’t know him
Love him or hate him, you don’t know him.
It’s a bold tagline for a film investigating a man whose family dog is a household name and whose junk food jags and basketball injuries lead the news cycle.
But conservative author and debater Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary film “2016: Obama’s America” makes good on its claim with a tightly crafted thesis about the world and philosophies our 44th commander in chief was born into and the radical ways these early influences, quite logically, shaped his thinking. If you don’t learn anything from watching the film, ask for your money back.
The movie is based on D’Souza’s 2010 New York Times bestseller “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” which, along with the accompanying precis version published in Forbes, managed to inspire quite a bit of rage all its own. Critics called the analyses “absurd,” “lacking in truth and fact,” and “shameful,” to cite some of the more even-handed reviews. But then, as D’Souza points out, such critics have been unwilling to conduct their own investigations of the facts. (Disclosure: “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” and D’Souza’s newly released follow-up “Obama’s America” are both published by Regnery, which like Human Events, is owned by Eagle Publishing).
But though D’Souza’s proposition — that President Barack Obama’s actions and philosophies are greatly informed by the passionate anti-colonialism of his Kenyan father — is so far out of mainstream thought it has to seem radical, his presentation of his findings through the medium of film gives him an edge that may not have been as accessible to him in his book or in magazine articles.
Like Obama, D’Souza is a non-white American who spent formative years outside the U.S. (D’Souza grew up in India, while Obama divided his school years between Indonesia and Hawaii). And D’Souza too has close relatives who espouse anti-colonial sentiments he describes in the film as “anti-British and slightly anti-white” — understandable for Indians who grew up with various forms of race restriction in their own country until gaining independence from the British in 1947. By frontloading his own story in the film, D’Souza makes it hard for liberals to dismiss his investigation as a racially motivated hit born of conservative xenophobia.
Why are Obama’s anti-colonial influences relevant to his leadership of the U.S.? D’Souza explains in Forbes:
“Anticolonialists hold that even when countries secure political independence they remain economically dependent on their former captors … Obviously the solution is to resist and overthrow the oppressors. This was the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. and many in his generation, including many of my own relatives in India.” From this, he explains further in the film and on paper, comes the seed of Obama Jr.’s insistence on the wealthy paying “their fair share,” his support for anti-establishment movements such as Occupy Wall Street, and his refusal to espouse a philosophy of American exceptionalism at home or abroad.
D’Souza is our soft-spoken and bespectacled tour guide as we retrace Obama’s footsteps to Hawaii, Indonesia, and Kenya, our travels often interspersed with voiceovers from Obama himself as he reads from his 1995 memoir “Dreams From My Father.” We meet the president’s half-brother George Obama, who, D’Souza implies, remains in poverty in Kenya while his sibling runs the free world because the two differed so wildly on politics and their views on colonial influence.
Even more compelling is a discussion of the radicals D’Souza calls Obama’s “founding fathers” — the communist writer and poet Frank Marshall Davis, collectivist Harvard professor Roberto Unger, and of course the terror-connected Bill Ayers and anti-America invective-spewing Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The fact that the media has not even attempted to explore Obama’s connection to some of these men may be the film’s most resounding crack at the culture of willful ignorance that elected Obama, and the most difficult piece of evidence for critics of D’Souza’s work to shrug off.
The documentary is well-shot and edited, but straightforward, without excessive reliance on dramatic graphics or mood music: this is a story meant to be accessible to Republicans, Democrats, and perhaps most particularly undecided voters.
And the timing couldn’t be better. With a 1,091-theater release at the heart of political convention season, the film is already the top-grossing conservative documentary ever made and sixth on the list of best-received political docs, according to AP reports.
The runaway success of the film was an industry surprise, but its overall achievement might be better measured by the staying power of a final, haunting question: “which dream will we carry into 2016? The American dream, or Obama’s dream?”
Filmgoers will have more than popcorn to chew on as they leave the theater.