One of the biggest political talking points of the summer of 2012 spawned in a Houston movie house one hot Friday in July. The conservative documentary 2016: Obama's America, created by political commentator Dinesh D'Souza and released on a single screen in Texas' biggest city, had quickly grown to nationwide fame and infamy, ultimately becoming the fourth highest grossing documentary in history. Hungry for that same serving of buzz, D'Souza is following up his film with another cinematic jab at the POTUS — this time, he's punching up the title a bit: America, a movie that will combine the filmmaker's animosity for President Obama with, as depicted in the below trailer, an extended metaphor about America never having existed.
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The Hollywood Reporter shares D'Souza's comments about the new documentary: "President Obama looks at America as an oppressive force, while I and millions of others around the world have a different view – that America has been a great blessing to its own people and to the world." Delve into D'Souza's mind-melting hypothetical in the first teaser for the film.
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"The facts show that 2016: Obama’s America is nothing more than an insidious attempt to dishonestly smear the President by giving intellectual cover to the worst in subterranean conspiracy theories and false, partisan attacks." That's the stance the Obama campaign is taking on the biggest documentary of the year.
Unfortunately, everyone missed it the first time around. Sorry, President Obama. We're clearly not reading your multitudes of blog entries on your campaign website. This is obvious because it took the world until Sept. 11 to read the president's direct response to Dinesh D'Souza's documentary. The post was published on Sept. 5, just as the film approached its title as the second-most popular political documentary ever. The Hollywood Reporter first discovered the dated response, and to be fair, it did take the Obama camp 60 days to respond to the skyrocketing conservative film.
Of course, it took mere seconds for the rest of the world to respond to the doc. As BarrackObama.com reminds readers, an avalanche of reviews and commentary attacked the film for being "lazy" and employing "pseudo-scholarly leaps of logic." Some of the kinder reviews employ more neutral phrases like "attention-grabber." But in total, the response has been rather scathing.
And that should come as little surprise. D'Souza withstood a barrage of negative criticism when his precursor to the film, his book The Roots of Obama's Rage, was previewed in the form a Forbes article titled "How Obama Thinks." The piece sustained criticism from pundits on both sides, and even prompted Vice President Joe Biden to speak out, calling the article "science fiction" in an appearance on MSNBC. The Obama campaign's response to 2016 highlights past criticisms against D'Souza, saying his past works "have also been extensively mocked and lambasted by commentators of all partisan stripes." For readers who might be quick to jump to the conclusion that Liberals are the only ones complaining about the doc, BarrackObama.com quickly provides commentary from Conservative blogger R.R. Reno, who "slammed D’Souza’s argument, which insinuates that President Obama is not a true American because he is 'captive to the ideology of [Kenyan] Luo tribesman from the ‘50s,' as 'both unwarranted and misguided.'" In addition, the Columbia Journalism Review called the article "the worst kind of smear journalism."
Still not convinced? Well, there's more. After properly establishing support for the article's argument, the post claims the film is guilty of four blatant falsehoods:
1. D'Souza falsely claims that Obama doesn't believe that America's identity and core values are exceptional. This is accompanied by a link to the transcription of a speech in which the president praises the U.S. for its exceptionalism.
2. D'Souza falsely ties Obama to providing $2 million in funding for a Brazilian oil exploration. The campaign claims Obama was not involved with the loan.
3. D'Souza claims Obama backed the release of Scotland's Lockerbie bomber, but the post provides a statement and a letter from the Obama administration objecting to the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to Libya.
4. Finally, D'Souza claims that the bank bailouts were passed by Obama, but widespread news coverage of the bill shows that President George W. Bush signed the program into law in October 2008.
Did you see 2016: Obama's America? Why do you think it took this long for Obama's camp to issue a response?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Rocky Mountain Pictures]
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Compared to the big studio releases that can scoop up $50 million in a single weekend, a "success" in the world of documentary looks like chump change. Aside from the unpredictable performance of Michael Moore's 2004 doc Fahrenheit 9/11, which rounded out at $119 million, most of the films on the highest grossing documentaries of all time list bow out with around $25 million.
So when a documentary starts earning seven-digit weekend grosses, people pay attention. That's the case with 2016 Obama's America, a new documentary from author Dinesh D'Souza, which first premiered in July on a single screen in Texas, grossing a whopping $32,000. Leveraging the buzz, 2016 slowly trickled out into theaters across the country. This past weekend, the film played in 169 theaters, bumping its overall take to just above $2 million. That already makes it the number two non-nature documentary of the year, just under Bully.
In 2016, the well-known conservative commentator examines Obama's past and his potential as a second-term President. As the official website puts it:
Immersed in exotic locales across four continents, best selling author Dinesh D’Souza races against time to find answers to Obama’s past and reveal where America will be in 2016. During this journey he discovers how Hope and Change became radically misunderstood, and identifies new flashpoints for hot wars in mankind’s greatest struggle. The journey moves quickly over the arc of the old colonial empires, into America’s empire of liberty, and we see the unfolding realignment of nations and the shape of the global future.
Overtly partisan documentaries aren't a new thing — activist cinema was particularly active in the '60s and '70s on a global scale — but recent years have seen the release of ideological attacks that have hit the big screen and made a splash unlike ever before. In some ways, they were spurred by the theatrical muckraking tactics of Moore, who hoped that Fahrenheit 9/11 would steer people away from voting for then-sitting President George W. Bush. Whether it fairly covers both sides of the issues is up for debate, but the fervor it packed in its agenda made it a gargantuan success. 2016 Obama's America isn't reaching that box office level (yet), but the film does successfully draw from the same well as Fahrenheit 9/11. Winning people on the other side of the line may not be the point — a pointed documentary makes more money than one presenting bipartisan politics.
2016 Obama's America is an even bigger surprise because of where it's finding success. The Hollywood Reporter reports that the film was the number three highest grossing picture at a New York City theater. (The top two? The Dark Knight Rises and Total Recall.) New York City is the number one American city to back Obama's campaign, so why the surge in an anti-Obama doc? Like the inverse of Fahrenheit 9/11, it's about playing directly to the heart of those who want to hear their thoughts echoed — a savvy business strategy. According to 2016 producer John Sullivan, the film's marketing campaign is aggressive in the specific places the audience may be found, with ads running on Fox News Channel, A&E, History and MSNBC. A similar approach was taken with two other recent conservative films: 2011's Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated and Ben Stein's 2008 evolution debate film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The latter grossed a relatively big $7.7 million.
Partisan documentaries are fruitful business, and with politics raging more furiously than ever before thanks to social technology, the symbolic theatrical experiences will grow increasingly more prominent. Like everything in Hollywood, "documentary" is now in its own creative vs. business battle. Why be well-rounded when you can go for the throat and make a few million in the process? 2016 Obama's America is finding an audience and is on the road to being one of 2012's out-of-nowhere successes. Quality may not be a factor — the film has a pending score on Rotten Tomatoes based on three reviews — but there's no denying it's taking off and catching Hollywood's attention.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Rocky Mountain Pictures]
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