Away from the frontlines of political theater, an under-the-radar, controversial documentary on President Barack Obama, “2016: Obama’s America,” has over the last eight weeks quietly surged into the top 10 box office and become the second highest grossing political documentary ever.
The film recently expanded to more than 2,000 screens and has raked in $26 million. It ranked ninth nationally in box office the weekend of Sept. 8-9.
The man behind the controversial Obama movie is conservative scholar Dinesh D’Souza. He claims that Obama embraced what D’Souza calls the anti-colonial views of the president’s Kenyan father, and that in a second Obama administration – which explains the title “2016” – he would change America’s standing in the world.
“He wants to downsize America,” D’Souza said in an interview.
The documentary has galvanized many Republicans. Some, like Texas U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz, are holding screening fundraisers.
D’Souza’s claims have also faced some heavy criticism. A fact check of the film by the Associated Press said that “many of them don’t hold water.” D’Souza has disputed the criticisms.
The White House and the Obama campaign have ignored the movie – and its unexpected success – until now.
A posting Sept. 5 on the Obama campaign Website’s “Truth Team” page blasted it – and D’Souza – for the “deliberate distortion” of the president’s record and views, which it said “falsely smears” the president. In an email, the campaign called the film a “complete fiction and is based on lies and distortions about President Obama and his record instead of verifiable facts.”
The documentary was timed to be released leading up to the November election, much as Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” was meant to impact the 2004 election with its anti-President George W. Bush message, when he was running for re-election.
“Fahrenheit 9/11” is the most successful documentary of all time, earning more than $120 million.
The Obama film has been out for eight weeks, a longer “shelf life” than normal, said film expert and industry veteran Eric Sherman. He said it “used to be six weeks, then four weeks, now a moderately successful movie has two weeks. Other than Michael Moore, this is the only politically oriented documentary that I’ve heard people talk of. It’s become a phenomenon.”
Hollywood did embrace former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” on global warming, the third highest grossing political documentary. But the “2016” movie overtook it and “Sicko,” Moore’s film on the health care industry.
According to D’Souza the “2016” movie, which cost him and investors $2.5 million to make and $10 million to market, will remain, by contract, in theaters until Oct. 15, and afterward will be available on DVD and possibly sold to foreign distributors.
The movie is basically broken into three parts: A comparison between D’Souza’s own upbringing in India and his Ivy League education, and Obama’s; visits to important sites in the president’s life, including Hawaii, Indonesia and Kenya; and a look at people in Obama’s life and their alleged influence on his decisions as president.
The film Website Rotten Tomatoes reported that “2016” had just a 30 percent positive average rating from critics, but a nearly 80 positive reaction from its audience.
McClatchy Tribune News Service columnist Roger Moore called the film “a psycho-political hatchet job by an ex-Reaganite who believes Obama is bringing down America due to some issues with the father he barely knew, and never saw past the age of 10.”
Joe Uscinski, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, said the release of the film was strategic. “They’re capitalizing on the fact that people who don’t like Obama are going to suck up this entertainment,” he said.
D’Souza said he knows the film has a “narrow window” before the election. But even if the president is re-elected, “the film remains relevant,” he said.