Whenever I consider seeing a movie that either has a Christian theme or a political stance with which I agree, I admit to having anxiety over whether it will be worthwhile. Will the production values be top-notch or will they try to get away with inferior work? Will the message be heavy-handed or finessed, with solid background and/or documentation? I even wonder if I’ll find myself in the midst of a protest against the film that could lead to violence. So, for a number of reasons, I’m careful about viewing something that advertises itself as pro-Christian or pro-America/conservatism.
Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I went to see 2016: Obama’s America this past Saturday. I already knew that the primary driver behind the documentary was Dinesh D’Souza, a well-established writer and Christian college president. I have read a couple of books by D’Souza and found them useful. One in particular, Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, provided fine insights into President Reagan (for whom, incidentally, D’Souza worked in the 1980s).
In addition, I knew his thesis on Obama’s background from reviews of his latest book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage. He posited in the book that Obama’s worldview and policies flowed from a strident anti-colonialism passed on by a father he rarely saw and barely knew. That thesis created a storm of controversy on all the talk shows and in the political blogosphere.
The question in my mind was, “How will D’Souza transfer that thesis to the screen successfully?”
The answer: superbly.
From the very beginning of the film, the quality was undeniable. Only afterwards did I realize that its producer, Gerald Molen, had also produced Schindler’s List. He obviously wouldn’t allow a cheap production. The images in the documentary were effective, from the various timelines linking individuals in Obama’s history to the technique of using phone calls with authors rather than resorting to the “talking head” syndrome. You’ll have to see the film to fully appreciate what I mean by that last comment.
The film is not a hit piece. It avoids demonizing Obama; rather, it aids in understanding why he believes as he does. Neither does it wander into unprofitable birth-certificate questioning or claims that Obama is a Muslim. The presentation is far more nuanced than that, and deserves credit for how it handles those issues. The thesis, stated more fully, is that Obama is driven by an anti-capitalist, anti-Western, even anti-American worldview that stems from how he was raised by his mother (who always praised his father’s views) and maternal grandparents. The latter introduced him to a mentor named Frank Marshall Davis, who tutored Obama in Hawaii for six years. Davis was a committed communist who railed against what he considered the evils of Western imperialism. Later, in college, Obama deliberately chose radicals for his mentors, solidifying the schooling he received under Davis.
D’Souza brings Obama into the picture slowly. He begins by tracing his own background as an immigrant from India to America. He himself is a “man of color” who was an outsider to the American heritage. He also shows that he and Obama were born in the same year, graduated from college in the same year, and got married also in the same year. What this does is effectively show how the narrator of the film came from a similar colonial background, since Britain ruled India for decades. D’Souza carefully points to some of the bad effects of colonialism, yet simultaneously reveals how colonial oversight led to a greater prosperity for those nations who remained in that status for a longer period of time. Many who threw off colonialism rapidly descended into poverty and have remained Third-World nations, still undeveloped after many years of independence.
D’Souza shows the audience Obama’s background by traveling himself to Indonesia, Hawaii, and Kenya. One key component of the film is an interview D’Souza conducted with Obama’s half-brother, George, who lives in extreme poverty in Kenya, earning $12 per year. It’s a fascinating interview. George believes Kenya should have remained under British rule longer because it has fallen behind other nations like South Korea, which were as poor as Kenya at one time. He feels Kenya would be more prosperous now if it hadn’t gained independence so quickly. George also doesn’t want the government to provide for him; he has a deep sense of personal responsibility for his own life. He doesn’t agree with his half-brother, the President of the United States, on the role of government. And this comes from someone in deep poverty.
D’Souza’s analysis of Obama’s background and developed beliefs leads to an examination of why he does what he does as president. Everything, D’Souza says, is part of a worldview that seeks to diminish America’s power in the world and to redistribute to those who have been oppressed. This is why he wants to cut back on America’s nuclear arsenal. This is why he wants to tax the “rich”; this is why he views Israel as the main obstacle in the Middle East. One fascinating comment in the film is that Obama has identified with the Occupy Movement, which wants to take down the so-called 1% of wage earners. D’Souza notes that since Obama has a global worldview, in which he compares the poverty in the world to what Americans think of as poverty, that most Americans are in that 1%. Therefore, even the middle class must eventually have its income redistributed.
After delving into Obama’s background and his current belief system, D’Souza then refers to the comment Obama made to the Russian president when he thought the microphone was off: wait until after my reelection, he told Medvedev, and then I’ll have more flexibility. In other words, once he gets past his first term, he won’t have to worry about another reelection, and he will go full force to try to accomplish his goals. He’s been somewhat hindered in a first term, but he won’t be if he gets a second.
From that statement, the film then offers a realistic perspective on what America would be like in 2016 if Obama gets his way. It’s not a pretty picture.
I can recommend this documentary wholeheartedly. It is meticulously researched, and although it certainly has a definite viewpoint, it presents the case fairly and admirably.
Interestingly, our local theater, in its listings on its internet site, didn’t highlight this film as one of the new movies to appear this weekend. It always does so; not in this case. I had to scroll down in the listing to find it next to the bottom. Even more interesting was the fact that it was not listed at all on the marquee where you purchase tickets. You had to know it was there and request tickets for it. What is this? Fear of violence at the theater? A management that has an ideological disagreement with the theme of the film and wants it to fail? I don’t know, but it is being treated differently than the other movies. I wonder if this is an isolated event or something more widespread.
Here’s a footnote to George Obama: this past week, he found himself in dire financial straits, so he reached out to someone for help. He asked Dinesh D’Souza if he could loan him $1000. When D’Souza inquired as to why he didn’t ask Barack Obama to help instead, George responded that he considered D’Souza more of a real brother. D’Souza loaned him the money.
It’s one thing to talk about how much you care in the abstract; it’s something else entirely to care enough to help personally.