Reviewer’s Rating: ★ 1/2
Political documentaries made by the political right are few and far between. When they do show up, their shoestring budgets make them look like amateurish passion projects next to well-produced documentaries like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko” by Michael Moore. The film “2016: Obama’s America” clearly has a higher budget than most and refrains from the mocking tone that many people find off-putting in other political docu-dramas, but it is unlikely to convince any Obama supporters to jump ship.
From Dinesh D’Souza, author of the controversial book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” comes a film that is half biography of our current president and half speculation about how the events, people, and places encountered in his life shape his decisions as the 44th president of the United States. D’Souza theorizes that Obama has developed an anti-colonial mindset that causes him to seek to weaken America instead of strengthening it, and uses numerous passages from Obama’s book, “Dreams From My Father,” to make his case.
D’Souza begins by comparing his own life as an immigrant from India to Obama’s. He then travels to the places Obama lived when he was younger in an attempt to trace back the roots of this supposed anti-colonial, anti-capitalist mentality. From Hawaii to Indonesia to Kenya, D’Souza meets with people who knew Obama when he was younger, and even his half-brother George Obama. While most of his interviewees are carefully chosen and none of them refute his theories, most of his arguments aren’t something that could be proved or disproved in any meaningful way. There are plenty of facts and figures, sure, but “Obama’s America” is a character study through and through.
Instead of aiming for laughs like Moore does in his movies, D’Souza’s film apes the tone of a conspiratorial spy thriller in which tidbits of damning information are slowly revealed, culminating in a gloomy prediction of what the world will be like in 2016. A few of the movie’s more dramatic scenes, like a phone call between D’Souza and a man describing Obama’s friendships with controversial figures like Roberto Unger and Frank Marshall Davis, take the spy motif too far and feel hokey. In addition, many of D’Souza’s targets like so-called black liberation preacher Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor, are well-trod ground by now, so many of the revelations aren’t anything detractors of the president haven’t said before.
Passages of “Dreams From My Father,” read by Obama himself, are used to good effect to set up D’Souza’s next talking point, and dramatic reenactments of the president’s young life do a good job of emphasizing the points D’Souza wishes to focus on. For instance, the film uses the image of a young Obama kneeling over his father’s grave in Kenya to symbolize how his father’s beliefs became his own, according to D’Souza’s theory.
Despite a grim prediction of what America will look like at the end of Obama’s second term as president in 2016 and an appeal to the audience in the form of “the future is in your hands,” it’s unlikely that “Obama’s America” will convince Obama supporters to change sides. It does, however, serve as an effective encapsulation of many conservative criticisms of him with plenty of speculative psychology thrown in for good measure.
“2016: Obama’s America” is well-produced and well-paced, but the fact that it constantly walks the line between fact and guesswork means that its ultimate conclusions about who Obama is as a person and where he’s taking our country aren’t particularly convincing.