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Dinesh D'Souza's documentary, 2016: Obama's America, lived up to Entertainment Weekly's prediction that it would break into the national zeitgeist by coming in at number seven at the box office this past weekend, grossing $6.2 million. While that figure may not sound exactly industry-shattering, when you consider it alongside the number of theaters the film played on, it becomes much more impressive.
According to film website Box Office Mojo, 2016 earned an average of $5,700 on just over 1,000 screens, trouncing the $4,000-per-screen average of the weekend's big-budget, star-studded number one film, The Expendables. Its overall earnings of $9.2 million make it one of the most successful documentaries of all-time and the highest-earning conservative documentary in history. The question is, does it deserve all the attention it's getting?
To be honest, not really. What we are seeing with 2016, I believe, is a phenomenon that is more attributable to the failure of the mainstream media than the success of D'Souza and fellow producer John Sullivan. Since 2008 the bulk of the nation's journalists have refused to offer up accurate information about Barack Obama's background, leaving a significant portion of the American public eager for theories to explain the man, his policies, and from whence they spring.
Certainly 2016 isn't as entertaining as Ami Horowitz's scathing documentary from earlier this year, U.N. Me (see "Bad global cop," WORLD Magazine, June 16), not as persuasive as Ben Stein's 2008 expose of ideological blacklisting in academia, Expelled (see "Seriously funny," by Marvin Olasky, WORLD Magazine, April 5, 2008), and not as well-researched as either.
Even for those disposed to agree with D'Souza's viewpoint, the movie drags in parts. A section where he fails to get an interview with one of the wives of President Obama's polygamist grandfather seems particularly pointless, as are a host of fairly goofy reenactments that do nothing to bolster the film's prime arguments.
There are some provocative tidbits, such as the president's relationship with writer and activist Frank Marshall Davis, but these are glossed over quickly, as though merely mentioning Davis' communist leanings is enough to indict the president. For those in the D'Souza's conservative choir, it might be. But to win over a neutral viewer, never mind those predisposed to hostility, the film would need to offer more specifics about Davis' writings and how they may have shaped the thinking of the world's most powerful leader. In fact, D'Souza's most persuasive evidence about the president's ideology doesn't support his thesis that Obama is a new breed on the political stage-an anti-colonialist following in his Third World father's footsteps-at all. Instead, the most effective scenes describe the views and values of Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama's mother, and how she worked to instill her beliefs in her son.
According to D'Souza (and this he does document in detail), everything the young Obama knew and felt about his father was filtered through the lens of his mother's 1960s-era radicalism. She fashioned a socialist idol of the absentee senior Obama and took pains to separate the junior from a stepfather who had far more pro-America, pro-capitalism views. And it was her leftist academic associates, and those who thought like her associates, that made up most of the president's early influences. Indeed, you get the impression Obama might have better called his memoir, Dreams from My Mother.
Even the promise of 2016's title is never fulfilled. No conservative would argue that President Obama's policies aren't leading the country into economic ruin, but this conservative has to point out that D'Souza's film fails to make this case. In dealing with the fallout from massive spending and the crushing debt we are leaving to future generations, the film goes no more in depth than a brief Sean Hannity panel discussion.
That said, the fact that D'Souza's documentary, despite its shortcomings, has struck a chord with so many audiences proves how pervasive the public's sense that it doesn't know or understand the man in the Oval Office is. For this, and for the success of 2016: Obama's America, the media have no one but themselves to blame.