It takes 90 minutes for Dinesh D’Souza’s rambling, mistitled America: Imagine the World Without Her to get to its real point. There’s D’Souza, arch-conservative Ivy League immigrant, creator of the popular anti-Obama screed 2016: Obama’s America, in handcuffs.
“I made a mistake,” he says to the conservative choir he’s preaching to. We’re supposed to know he pleaded guilty to felony federal campaign finance law violations back in May, and that he faces prison time when he’s sentenced later this year.
Snippets of assorted Fox TV commentators link that conviction to his earlier film criticizing President Obama. The implication is that he’s a martyr to the cause. And for those in his choir a little slower to catch on, he cuts to an actor playing Abe Lincoln, giving his “farewell address,” a speech freighted with symbolism.
Written and directed by Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan. A Lionsgate release, playing at Franklin Park and Fallen Timbers. Rated PG-13 for violent images.
Running time: 100 minutes.
Critic’s rating: *½
Cast: Dinesh D’Souza, John Koopman, Ted Cruz.
“I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return.”
Cut to John Wilkes Booth, an assassination, and a great Republican lost to history.
What doesn’t matter is that Lincoln actually gave that address as he left Illinois for Washington in 1861, four years before his assassination.
What does is D’Souza’s almost comical gall at daring to make the comparison.
America sets itself up as a piece of documentary counter-history, opening with George Washington not surviving the 1777 defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, which causes Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty to dissolve. Where would the world be if America wasn’t here?
But D’Souza abandons that as he posits his main thesis — that a conspiracy by academics and activists has created a culture of “shame” about American history. He lists five “indictments” that Native American activists, Mexican-American academics, African-American leaders, leftist historians, and the Occupy Movement have sold the American public — that we stole Indian land, Mexican land, African slaves, global colonies (and oil), and that capitalists are stealing from each and every one of us, even today. Then he sets out to dismiss each of those indictments.
D’Souza takes issue with the notion that keeping “conquered lands” was something we invented, punctures the use of “genocide” to describe the impact of disease on Native American populations in the early years after European settlement, and counters the idea that the Sioux Nation, for instance, should refuse compensation for lands taken from them in violation of treaty because they expect the lands to be given back to them.
His reenactments include that one Frenchman conservatives love, Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote so admiringly about our “character” — 180 years ago. D’Souza could probably have found better credentialed historians to weigh in on his side of these topics, making for a serious and civil debate, but is generally content to aim lower in that regard. Canadian-born Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) is tossed up as an expert on Texas history, one of the few laughs in America.
What he’s doing, it turns out, is lowering the viewer’s standards of proof for a vigorous return to “2016” territory, a hatchet job on Obama and Obamacare that tries to tie everything to a 1960s “radical” organizer who might have influenced the president and, of course, Hillary Clinton.
D’Souza cannot help himself. He’s discovered a way to get rich hurling Obama-baiting red meat to an audience that cannot get enough of that, so he abandons any pretense of making a movie about how this country should have a more vigorous debate about its image, its principles and just what the truth is about its history. Well, don’t begrudge him that. He will need a nest egg if he goes to prison.