Friday, September 14, 2012

'2016: Obama's America' and the Perils of Political Film Criticism

On the September 9th, 2012 edition of Sounds of Cinema I reviewed the film 2016: Obama's America. Directed by Dinesh D'Souza and John Sullivan, the film is a  documentary about President Barack Obama’s influences, intending to define Obama’s worldview. The filmmakers conclude that Obama possesses a post-colonial, anti-capitalist ideology that drives his administration's policies. This picture is an exercise in armchair psychology that is poorly researched, intellectually dishonest, and passively racist as it reinforces the narrative that Obama secretly harbors a hatred of white culture and is not an American. In my review I concluded:
Agitprop documentaries often preach to the choir and are usually hailed or condemned depending on whether they confirm or conflict with the petty partisan allegiances of the viewer. But the problems with 2016: Obama’s America go beyond politics. There is a serious conservative documentary to be made criticizing the presidency of Barack Obama but this is not it. This is the kind of picture that is poisonous to the culture and its filmmakers tap into some of the ugliest facets of American politics. 2016: Obama’s America should not be categorized with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 or Frank Capra’s Why We Fight; instead, this film ought to be regarded with the same ridicule as Reefer Madness.  (Read the full review here.)
I always put my best effort into each film review but while writing my critique of 2016: Obama's America I was more thorough than usual. Reviewing films like this fill me with a sense of both responsibility and trepidation because it puts my credibility on the line in ways that reviewing other films do not. With that in mind I've written an essay on the Sounds of Cinema blog about the intricacies of reviewing overtly political films. Here is an excerpt:
Reviewing a film like 2016: Obama’s America is intimidating because it requires me to be much more conscientious and rigorous about how I evaluate it. In this case, approving or disapproving of President Obama may predispose me to like or dislike the film; in the interest of full disclosure, I have mixed feelings about Barack Obama’s presidency but more than likely I will vote for him this November. But if that is the only criterion upon which I evaluate the film then I am no different from the partisan apologists who crowd the airwaves and my credibility as a film critic is diminished.  
Reviewing this film is categorically different from reviewing Obama and his presidency. A documentary whose perspective I ideologically disagree with can be well made and ethically argued and as a critic I have to acknowledge that. The reverse is also true; in my review of Fahrenheit 9/11 I commented that Michael Moore’s filmmaking is exceptional but the director has a tendency to jump to conclusions in his argumentation; when I reviewed An Inconvenient Truth I noted that the argumentation was solid and the information was important but it wasn’t much of a film. As it is, the cinematic merits of 2016: Obama’s America are uneven as the sound is often poor and the dramatic recreations frequently look ridiculous. But the more serious problems with the film are found in its arguments which are intellectually dishonest and appeal to underlying racial prejudices in the American electorate. As I concluded in my review, there is a serious conservative documentary to be made criticizing the presidency of Barack Obama but this is not it.
You can read the entire post here.