When it comes to the movie industry’s pursuit of the bottom line, content and marketing have long since been tossed together into a catchall bucket of “infotainment.” Your first few minutes at the Cineplex can be especially confusing. Product placement makes it difficult to know if you’re watching the opening reel of your action caper, another trailer, or a BMW commercial. Even so, it took less than a minute for three viewers who had plunked down $14.50 each for a 7:10 PM showing of 2016: Obama’s America to size up this film for exactly what it is. As the well-dressed middle-aged trio rushed the exit, clutching their bounty of overpriced snacks, their overheard conversation was to the tune of “Oh, Jesus!” and “This is total bullshit!”
Establishment film critics who have braved its entire one-hour 29-minute running time have been hard pressed to come up with anything more succinct to describe “2016,” which is based on Dinesh D’Souza’s book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” and produced by Romney “close friend” and fellow Mormon, Gerald Molen—known throughout the Hollywood blogosphere as a friend of Steven Spielberg.
But that “2016” fails to come across as a “real movie” doesn’t alter the scarier underlying truth that the long-favored vehicle for gratuitously unfair smear campaigns funded by fat cats with deep pockets, the 30-second attack ad, has been souped up, oversized and given hefty Hollywood cred by Molen, who co-produced Schindler’s List. Or as Nikki Finke crows gleefully on reporting its “stunning” weekend box office, (“2016” raked in $6m in sale making it the #4 overall picture in the country) the documentary “has made its point.”
While the Hollywood Reporter claims especially “boffo” crowds for “2016” in Union Square’s Regal Theater, last Thursday and Friday nights, in fact, the theater never was more than 1/3 full.
More than just anomaly may have been at work in this discrepancy says seasoned entertainment reporter Rich Rushfield. Some entertainment bloggers–but Finke especially–are notoriously “too nice to close sources,” he says, letting them “overhype their early returns.” These exaggerated numbers will then be taken at face value by other outlets. By this mechanism, producers try to “goose” a film’s momentum by creating a media echo-chamber in the hope of “creating a self-fulfilling prophecy,” a process Rushfield likens somewhat to the “early election projections” that are usually found to be useless by the very networks that tout them early on. (Indeed, for much of the weekend Drudge’s headline was a projection, gleaned from Finke, that “2016” would be the weekend’s #1 box-office picture.)
(In the case of 2016 there’s also the fact that some local Tea Party branches have been advertising free tickets—D’Souza has admitted in an interview that the film’s main intent isn’t “to make money.”)
Again and again, D’Souza, who directs and narrates the film, tries to make a case for Obama’s sheer otherworldliness by whirling the viewer through a hodgepodge of exotic locales and guilt-by-association tactics. The overlying message is that even if Obama wasn’t born in Kenya, he might as well be a Kenyan, and a Mau-Mau revolutionary to boot. Additionally puzzling is D’Souza’s secondary message that Obama is doubly suspicious because his past reminds D’Souza so much of his own (D’Souza’s) detested Indian upbringing.
Like the infamous Swift Boat ads, which impugned the courage of John Kerry, a proven war hero, to benefit George W. Bush, who is on record as a serial military malingerer, “2016” seeks to turn history squarely on its head. Oddly enough, Bush is also a beneficiary of D’Souza’s treatment of Obama, even though W. is notable only in his absence. Obama is portrayed as so enthralled by his absentee father’s “anti-colonial” beliefs that he is willing to wreck the machinery of state to sate papa’s ghost. With the film’s continual references to a president willing to destroy America to please his father, a skeptical viewer might be excused for recalling W., who famously buttressed his argument for deposing Saddam Hussein by referring to him as “the man who tried to kill my dad.”
D’Souza has advanced the idea in interviews that “2016” is an independent documentary whose release fortuitously coincides with election season, and conservative commentators have echoed this assertion. By reviewing the film in its arts sections (and parroting claims that its a sleeper hit) the mainstream media has given credence to the idea that “2016” was produced by conservative advocates wholly outside of Mitt Romney’s campaign apparatus. “2016: Obama’s America,” however, has all the hallmarks of other sophisticated attack operations that have sprung from the bowels of the GOP machine.
The fact that the film’s anti-Obama animus is centered in racial prejudice is hardly surprising; over 50 years ago the GOP developed its so-called “southern strategy,” which aimed to lure white southerners away from their allegiance to the Democratic Party with a whole new “states’ rights” lingo that encoded anti-integrationist sentiments while remaining nominally respectable to the moderate eastern establishment. That the Republicans now they have an Indian American running elaborate racial cover only illustrates that new generations of panderers have replaced the old.
Throughout the film, D’Souza’s recalls several “sudden realizations” he has had in his life about how fair America is to its racial minorities. Harkening back to his college days, when as a fresh-faced Indian immigrant at Dartmouth he publically debated Jesse Jackson over the very existence of racism in America, D’Souza intones: “I suddenly realized that he and I were the same color.” Elsewhere in the film the president’s impoverished Nigerian “half brother,” George is dragged out to suggest Nigeria would have been well served if the “white’s stayed longer,” because colonialism was “nothing [except benign].”
“[The GOP] has to inject the race card through backchannels,” says Peter Feld, a former Democratic political strategist. Referring especially to Romney’s recent “joke” about never having being asked to show his birth certificate, he adds, “There is a limit to how much they can do through official channels.” Romney essentially is in the bind of needing to play to his base’s worst instincts while maintaining “plausible deniability.”
As the consensus-driven mediasphere’s tone-deaf reaction to “2016” has proven, most reporters and commentators seem intent on letting him have just that.
After all, just yesterday on Morning Joe, Tom Brokaw, America’s most respected anchor-emeritus, issued a verdict on Romney’s already-infamous Birther “joke.” With the wave of a hand, he announced in his unmistakable lush baritone: “I don’t think Mitt Romney is playing the race card.”