I have a confession to make. Until quite recently in my life I have been a conspiracy nut. I love conspiracy theories to this day. One of my favorite shows is Ancient Aliens on the “History” Channel, which regularly asserts cover-ups on a global scale of alien intervention on our planet. I’ve been a conspiracy nut since I was a child. Having always had a flair for the dramatic, I would say I was quite prone to believing most stories told with passion and fear. Although I was older (10 years old) when I finally met my father he had a profound influence on my thinking. My father may be one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. He also believes there is a planet just beyond Pluto that harbors an alien race that is bent on infiltrating Earthly society. He’s not crazy, but he believes crazy stuff and can quote you a lot of solid research to back it up. I always pretty much believed everything he said, and it sparked my own interest in the world of conspiracy theories.
I’ve since moved on from that stage in my life (how is another story for another day), but I say all this to tell you that it was my sordid history with conspiracy theories that made me nervous to go see Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary Obama’s America: 2016. I worried that it would be full of conspiracy rhetoric and my old self might not be able to resist the temptation to connect Kennedy’s assassination or the Holy Grail to our current Commander-in-Chief. I was worried I might not be able to look at the film with reason. I needn’t have worried. 2016 is not a conspiracy film by any stretch of the imagination. It most certainly does tell a sordid tale of the man who would become our first Black President, but it does not rely on the stretches and leaps we’ve seen from the birther movement or the Coast to Coast crowd. Instead, D’Souza paints us a picture of our 44th President. He traces his roots; back to Hawaii, his time in Indonesia and the people who shaped his life. D’Souza, though soft-spoken and seemingly easy-going, is thorough and relentless in his investigation. He begins with Obama’s childhood in Indonesia and then takes the audience through a more in-depth look at the men who shaped his views on life. D’Souza asks the question- if we are all shaped by our past, how has Obama’s past shaped him, and how have we seen that reflected in the decisions he has made for our country as our President?
Obama’s father was a communist; a distant but idealized figure in his life. As my own father shaped my views early in my life, so did Obama’s shape his. If Obama’s father was an anti-colonial communist, how did that affect Obama himself? D’Souza uses Obama’s own words from “Dreams From my Father” to bring the point home. On an emotional trip back to Kenya Obama visited the graves of his father and grandfather, sitting between them and weeping for a time. When he was finished, Obama says he felt relieved, as if he had “closed the circle”. Their struggle had become his “birthright”. Remember, his father was a communist and staunch anti-colonialist.
Although in may seem strange in print, when considering Obama’s past and the present path he has this country on it is difficult to deny the intimate connection. D’Souza connects the dots with clarity and reason, but also by using his own life and his own direction as a touchstone for making those connections. Wonder why Obama’s first act was to return the bust of Churchill? Wonder why he has agreed to reduce our warhead stockpile from 7,000 to 300? Wonder why he constantly talks about “fair share”? As historian Daniel Pipes tell us, “He doesn’t think well of the United States”, and that is reflected in his policies.
I’ll refrain from making all the connections for you. D’Souza does that much more interestingly in less than two hours. Besides the actual content of the film the filmmaking itself was adequate, although not superior. A particularly emotional scene with Obama’s younger brother George will put a lump in your throat, but it’s not as slick as a Stephen Bannon film and not as smarmy as a Michael Moore production. However, 2016 makes its point and makes it well. The production itself may have been more well suited to the television format, but obviously a theatrical release makes more of an impact. And make an impact it has indeed. The film, which launched in only 400 theaters nationwide has placed third at the box office this week so far – an astonishing accomplishment for a documentary, let alone a conservative one.
D’Souza has created an informative, thought-provoking piece of work that will inspire viewers to examine their own pasts and influences in their lives and how those have worked to create who they are today. The conclusion is not very comforting, but the film does leave us with this thought: the answer to America’s woes will never be found in just one person, it will be found in WE the people.
UPDATE: Did you see 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think.