Dinesh D’Souza and President Barack Obama have plenty in common.
Both are of mixed ethnic heritage. Each was born in 1961 and later got married during the same year. And D’Souza and Obama grew up around people with vibrant anti-colonial impulses.
Yet the Indian-born immigrant marvels at the unique American experiment, while Obama appears to have a remarkably different take on the country’s promise.
“2016: Obama’s America,” already open in select theaters but opening wider this weekend, lets D’Souza connect the president’s current policies with the formative experiences of his youth. It’s a thesis gussied up as a feature-length documentary, one expressed through D’Souza’s quietly determined arguments.
It’s rare to see unabashedly right of center films, and when they arrive they typically reveal their modest budgets in every scene.
“2016” is different.
The documentary is slickly produced, with thoughtful camera work and impressive graphics. One need not embrace D’Souza’s thesis to appreciate the craft on display, or how the conservative author refuses to sling mud in grand Michael Moore fashion.
He still asks questions that demand answers. Why does Obama accumulate debt without fear? Why does he want to shrink the country’s nuclear arsenal while taking no efforts to stop Iran from crafting their own weapons of mass destruction? How can Obama object to domestic oil drilling while applauding similar measures by foreign countries?
It all begins with Barack Obama Sr., the father the future president barely knew.
“Notice it says ‘Dreams from My Father,’ not ‘of My Father,'” D’Souza says of the president’s famed autobiography.
The film traces the important moments from the life of Obama’s father, a man whose radical, anti-colonial views imprinted on his son despite their lack of physical proximity.
The son would gravitate to men with similar world views, like Frank Marshall Davis, a figure mentioned repeatedly in Obama’s autobiography.
“2016” isn’t a birther retread. The film clearly indicates Obama was born in Hawaii and points to two local newspapers which corroborated the birth. It does revisit some of Obama’s more unsavory connections, from unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The film puts the Obama-Wright nexus into context, something rigorously avoided by 99 percent of traditional media outlets. The reverend’s stark, anti-American tinged theology works hand-in-hand with the film’s anti-colonial through line.
Not all the points raised in “2016” carry equal weight. A sequence involving George Obama, the president’s half brother, hardly furthers the conversation. And many of the criticisms hurled at Obama here can be explained away by the president’s boiler plate liberalism just as easily as by his father’s expansive shadow.
An extended conversation with Shelby Steele, a mixed race conservative, detailing why Obama’s race actually helped his ascension to the White House seems like a discussion for another film.
And when D’Souza says Obama’s election victory is one for the American people, not the new president, it comes off as more petty than observant.
Yet D’Souza isn’t here to score cheap points. He’s the anti Michael Moore on screen, subdued, intellectual and hardly camera friendly in a show business sense. He doesn’t grandstand or play to his audience, an approach which burnishes both his credentials and his larger points.
Detractors will deny D’Souza’s right to even make these arguments, waving the race card or other flimsy rhetorical tricks. Critics of President George W. Bush routinely cited his father, the 41th president, as influencing some of his more controversial decisions.
“2016: Obama’s America” is clearly a conservative’s effort to explain the president’s actions while cautioning against a future in which Obama is unchecked by political reckoning.
“In his first term we have already seen Obama begin the work of remaking America, but he’s not done yet,” D’Souza warns. The author’s film deserves to be part of the electoral discussion.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies