Conservative political commentator Dinesh D'Souza's anti-Obama documentary 2016: Obama's America — which earned nearly $7 million over the weekend — continued its unexpected wave of box-office domination on Monday. The film earned $1.2 million — enough to make it the second-highest grossing film of the day, despite playing in one-third as many theaters as the box-office leader, The Expendables 2. In response to the film's unexpectedly strong numbers, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures has announced an aggressive expansion into an additional 799 theaters. Has D'Souza crafted the ultimate anti-Obama argument? And just how popular might this "little film that could" really get? Here's what you should know about the summer's most unexpected hit:
What's this movie about?
2016: Obama's America is based on conservative author Dinesh D'Souza's 2010 bestseller The Roots of Obama's Rage, which posits that Obama's political decisions are rooted in his deceased father's anti-colonialist beliefs. In the film's trailer, D'Souza delivers his central thesis over ominous music: "Obama has a dream — a dream from his father — that the sins of colonialism be set right and America be downsized.... America has a dream from our founding fathers: That together we must perfect liberty, and America must grow so liberty grows. Which dream will we carry into 2016?"
What do critics think of it?
Most reviewers aren't pleased. The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan says that 2016 will only appeal to those "predisposed to believe that Obama hates America," and the Boston Globe's Mark Feeney says that the film's final act feels like "an episode of The Colbert Report with D'Souza as guest host." Even those who, like Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic, admire D'Souza's filmmaking techniques, find the documentary's claims "specious, at best." Unsurprisingly, the most positive reviews of 2016 have sprung from right-wing publications: D'Souza is "the anti-Michael Moore," says Christian Toto at Breitbart, referencing the liberal documentary filmmaker who produced 2004's Fahrenheit 9/11, a blistering account of George W. Bush's handling of the Sept. 11 attacks. D'Souza's 2016 "deserves to be part of the electoral discussion," Toto says.
Is the film accurate?
Not particularly. A thorough analysis by Beth Fouhy of The Associated Press found numerous skewed or disingenuous assertions in the film. For example, D'Souza claims that Obama sympathizes with native Hawaiians yet provides "no evidence," and the filmmaker omits key information about the Bush presidency and Obama's foreign policy decisions that would weaken his argument. Most troublingly, D'Souza's central thesis — the extent to which Obama was influenced by his father's beliefs — "is almost entirely subjective and a logical stretch at best."
Is 2016: Obama's America the conservative Fahrenheit 9/11?
Yes and no. D'Souza recently told ABC News that his "goal is to chase Michael Moore," adding that he thinks the film "can give [Moore] a run for his money." 2016 has already earned more than four times its production budget, and it quickly displaced 2008's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — about the debate over teaching intelligent design in public schools — as the top-grossing conservative documentary of all time. The film's "well-placed ads" during coverage of the Republican National Convention will likely attract a larger audience, says Grady Smith at Entertainment Weekly, which could help 2016 hit number one at the box-office this weekend. But successful as D'Souza's film may be, it isn't anywhere near reaching the heights of Moore's Fahrenheit: 9/11, which earned nearly $120 million in the U.S. alone.