Losing It at the Movies

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Earlier this year, as HBO prepared to release its film about Sarah Palin’s part in the 2008 campaign, several of Palin’s supporters advanced a challenge. As Fox News reported, “Current and former aides to Sarah Palin lashed out Wednesday at HBO’s ‘Game Change,’ describing the upcoming film’s depictions of her on the 2008 campaign trail as ‘sick’ and inaccurate.”

Had Palin’s supporters seen the film?

Well, no.

We all like our opinions confirmed, and the Palin camp’s low opinion of the mainstream media is well documented. Likely they felt the film would simply reflect that supposed liberal media bias so lamented by the Right. But to denounce a film unseen smacks of the very quality I so object to: The Right’s categorical put-down of those who may hold opposing views – note the term “may” here. Without having seen the film, they could not, of course, truly know its take on Palin. (I found it fair and balanced, though it raised serious questions about Palin’s capabilities to serve in the national arena.)

So when this paper reported on Sept. 7 that the documentary “2016: Obama’s America” had drawn so many viewers that it was moved to the Edwards Big Newport 1,000-seat theater, I put my money where my mouth is. I wanted to know whether the packed theaters were filled with conservatives seeking confirmation of their opinion of the president. Or might the film move a moderate or a liberal? Finally, is there intellectual substance to the film?

By the time I paid my $9 to see the film on Sept. 17, there were fewer than 20 people in the seats. Apparently this is not a word-of-mouth sort of movie. I find it an odd film.

Narrated by the conservative journalist Dinesh D’Souza, the film purports to explore Obama’s roots and his motivations. Much is made of Obama’s “search for his father,” which, D’Souza argues, defines the president, “so influenced by [his Kenyan] father who wasn’t around.” D’Souza emphasizes the title of Obama’s critically applauded memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” (italics mine), as if Obama is simply channeling his left-leaning father’s agenda.

But Obama’s paternity is not news. His memoir has been in print since 1995. And the book has legs: In “The Guardian” Rob Woodard writes in 2008, “`Dreams from My Father’ is easily the most honest, daring, and ambitious volume put out by a major US politician in the last 50 years.” In 2011, the book appeared on Time magazine’s Top 100 non-fiction books written in English since 1923.

Besides, what U.S. president has not been influenced by a father who either was or was not around? So what? Obama had plenty of other influences; it is one of his strengths.

For D’Souza, however, it’s a chance to to build a case against the president’s multi-culturalism. He cites Obama’s years in Indonesia and even in Hawaii, which was also “colonized” by the U.S. via its “illegal annexation,” all of which has “spawned his anti-white, anti-colonialism. anti-Americanism.”

Really?

You don’t have to be a person of color or lived in other countries or be anti-American to wish to turn from the exceptionalism and bigotry that spawned this country’s and others’ colonialism — or to believe, as Obama does, that the U.S. can and should do better.

I find it bizarre that D’Souza, of mixed race from a country (India) that suffered desperately under colonialism, would take such a stance.

D’Souza also raises the specter of our deficit, as if this is solely Obama’s doing. It is not. Both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for the mess we’re in. (How can you possibly claim to be a fiscal conservative yet support the continued funding of our bloated defense budget?) The only way we’re going to clean it up is by the two parties working together – that’s what we pay them to do, and what the Republicans refuse to do. It’s intellectually dishonest to claim otherwise, as D’Souza does.

As I left the theater, I thought, all that money and effort spent and this is the best D’Souza could come up with?

After the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union deconstructed, I remember wondering that as communism faded what would the Far Right find to hate now? It didn’t take long to find out. People on the Left have been demonized ever since. Obama, with his heritage and his color and his desire for social justice for all Americans, became a convenient lightning rod for the hate- and fear-mongers. This film, poorly thought out and crudely wrought, is simply another attempt to create doubt and suspicion of the president. There are legitimate issues that should be examined and debated in this election year, but this film doesn’t go there.

As I was writing this column, I learned that “Game Change” won an Emmy. I doubt that “2016: Obama’s America” will ever earn much acclaim. Nor should it.

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