In his hour-and-a-half long ode to white people, Dinesh D’Souza — Indian immigrant and self-proclaimed “that guy” at parties who takes off-the-cuff conversational remarks about travel aspirations obnoxiously literally — spins a fantasy of filial piety so bizarre, so conspiratorial, so nonsensical that it really requires reflection. D’Souza’s film can be called a documentary, but only loosely: the intrusive music and slick, oddly-paced sequence of disjointed stock images feels like an extended version of the brainwashing scene from The Parallax View.
When “2016: Obama’s America” is not shuffling through inexplicable images of the Dallas skyline, it mainly features D’Souza reminiscing about his past or talking on the phone. But it is not a film about D’Souza, nor is it a film about Obama, or even a film about America. At its weird Freudian core, 2016 is a film about D’Souza’s feelings about Obama’s feelings about his father.
D’Souza’s thesis goes something like this: because his father was not present for the majority of his childhood, the young Barack Obama developed a nebulous, loosely delineated father-complex in which he both idolized and desired to surpass his father in anti-colonial freedom fighting. Obama’s mother, D’Souza suggests, was an emotionally unstable developing nations groupie who got off on poverty and privation, and therefore instilled in the young Obama a vision of his father that was pure Marxist fantasy, with plenty of racial resentment to boot. D’Souza also claims that Obama’s fatherlessness left him vulnerable to the influence of a variety of Marxists and academics including Bill Ayers (old news), Frank Marshall Davis and Edward Said.
The interviews intended to make D’Souza’s case feature a rotating cast of characters so colorful and utterly mystified by the filmmaker’s leading questions that they put This is Spinal Tap to shame in terms of sheer candid confusion. Interviewees include an aging anthropology professor of the late Mrs. Obama, a slew of Kenyan acquaintances of the late Mr. Obama, a psychologist intent on waxing sentimental about postwar America, and a cold war historian in his quaintly western living room. The highlight of the bunch is Obama’s half-brother George, who eyeballs D’Souza warily on a park bench before brushing off literally every one of his questions. None of the information garnered from the interviews amounts to much of anything; instead, D’Souza relies upon dramatizations and cherry-picked passages from Obama’s own autobiography to sketch his Obama creation myth.
D’Souza’s argument is firstly silly and secondly profoundly insidious. While viewers of any intellectual vigor will dismiss it as psychologically unsound, sociologically unschooled, flagrantly fabricated nonsense, it feeds off of the fact that it’s fundamentally non-falsifiable. No one can exactly prove that Obama doesn’t feel this or that way about his father, even Obama himself.
But D’Souza is not unsophisticated, and he anticipates that viewers will wonder why, if Obama is an anti-colonial revolutionary bent on divesting the USA of its unjustly accrued wealth and power, he hasn’t actually done anything to that end. Herein arises the coup de grâce of D’Souza’s intellectual dishonesty: he posits that Obama is merely awaiting his reelection to loose mere anarchy upon the earth. In his second term, D’Souza predicts, Obama will have no more reason to mask or mitigate his anti-colonial intentions. United States nuclear power, he says, will be drastically reduced; the economy will collapse entirely; war will break out around the world and no global police force will be able to contain it. Think Frodo gazing into the mirror of Galadriel, but subtly racist.
Part of D’Souza’s strategy for advancing this kind of character assassination is to insist that he and Obama are not so different: they are the same age, both racial minorities, both Ivy League educated, and both connected in some way to the recent colonial past. But D’Souza lionizes the colonizers of yesteryear, suggesting in not-so-subtle ways that today’s USA is the contemporary incarnation of ancient empires, and should embrace its role with gusto. Obama, he suggests, sees it differently – and for D’Souza, different is always opposite. Nuance does not exist in his fantasy of fatherly feeling, and consequently, neither does truth. 2016 is good only for a glimpse into the delusional dark side of the conspiracy theories that will make up the late-night History channel documentaries of the future.