If the film 2016: Obama’s America preaches to the choir—as critical reviews of the movie contend—then the choir of Americans curious about Barack Obama is a large one.
In spite of the prediction by Variety that 2016 would vanish without a trace, the documentary about President Obama is by the latest count No. 3 at the box office, running in 1,800 theaters nationwide. It is on track to overtake Al Gore and several Michael Moore movies. Other, cruder epithets have also been thrown at 2016, but no one has been able to challenge the facts of the documentary. “Choir preaching” is in fact the criticism most reviewers from The Washington Post to The Philadelphia Inquirer have leveled at 2016.
The most likely explanation of the success of 2016 is that filmmakers Dinesh D’Souza and Gerald Molen have tapped into a deep well of curiosity and concern among ordinary Americans about the man they elected president four years ago, a man many find aloof and hard to understand. At the heart of D’Souza’s argument is the contention that Obama cannot afford to let the American people in on his true radical vision of a diminished American place in the world. If he did, they would never vote for him. “For Obama to make himself acceptable to America, he had to hide his past,” says D’Souza.
Accorded kid-glove treatment by the mainstream media, President Obama has never been really scrutinized, nor his life story closely examined like those of other American presidential candidates. In a sense, D’Souza and Molen have tried to do the same thing Michelle Obama attempted in her speech Tuesday evening (though from a very different perspective, of course)—explain Obama, the man, to the American people.
Fundamental to the concept of the movie 2016 is the fact that both D’Souza and Obama have roots outside the United States. D’Souza, who narrates the movie, talks of his childhood in Mumbai, India, and compares it to the childhood of Obama growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, the son of an American mother and a Kenyan father who abandoned his family before Obama was even born. In this sense, as an outsider, D’Souza claims a special understanding of Obama; the movie is based on D’Souza’s best-selling book Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream.
A big part of Obama’s make-up, so D’Souza says, is the deep-rooted anti-colonialism of his father, Barack Obama, Sr. “Only through the dreams of the father can we understand the actions of the son,” D’Souza says. Or as a voice over from President Obama’s own reading of his autobiography Dreams from My Father states, “The pain I felt was my father’s pain…[his]struggle was my struggle.”
In this view, the radicalism of Obama’s chosen mentors like former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, anti-American preacher Jeremiah Wright, anti-Israel professor Edward Said, and radical professor Roberto Unger lies just below the surface and explains Obama’s policy choices, domestic and foreign alike. (At the same time, Obama has distant and conflicted relationships, marred by divergent views of their father, with his eight paternal half-siblings, like his brothers Marc and George, the latter of whom D’Souza tracks down in the Kenyan slum where he lives.)
According to the analysis of 2016—an analysis that tracks closely with many of Obama’s policies—the President views American military projection, economic power, and energy consumption as excessive, a threat to global stability.
As Heritage Foundation research has shown, the Obama doctrine amounts to diminishing the footprint of American power in the world by cutting our military, cutting nuclear weapons, transferring American power to international organizations and undercutting American allies, while handing concessions to America’s competitors. As D’Souza puts it, Obama wants to “restore a world where many countries have equal power.”