One of the top 10 films at the weekend box office was a documentary that equates Barack Obama’s reelection with the death and dismemberment of the United States of America — “2016: Obama’s America” grossed about $6.5 million to land at No. 7, nearly $800,000 ahead of Meryl Streep’s latest, the Obamically titled “Hope Springs.”
This was the second-lowest-grossing weekend of the year, but the film’s $9.3 million seven-week haul is still enough to make it the most successful conservative political documentary of all time, as defined and ranked by Box Office Mojo. It’s also the sixth-highest-grossing all-around political documentary, ranking behind four Michael Moore films and “An Inconvenient Truth,” which starred Al Gore and glaciers.
“It’s like the sophomore on the varsity squad who comes out and plays better than the seniors but they still lose the game,” says Keith Simanton, managing editor of IMDb. “It’s still impressive.”
So, uh, where’d this movie come from?
Answer: From the mind of Dinesh D’Souza — president of King’s College in New York, former Reagan staffer, author of books and articles claiming that Obama espouses an anti-colonialist worldview that imperils America — and the wallets of 25 donors who kicked in a combined $2.5 million to bankroll the project, which was completed in June and premiered July 13 on one screen in Houston.
A month later it was playing in 10 theaters, then 61 the following week. It was on 169 screens the weekend of Aug. 17 to 19. On Friday it hit 1,091 and was the No. 4 film nationwide that day. (The No. 1 movie in America this weekend also happened to be GOP-tastic. “The Expendables 2” stars former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris, who endorsed Newt Gingrich earlier this year.)
John Sullivan, D’Souza’s co-director, credits “a grass-roots campaign” for the film’s relative success. Local talk radio hosts were enlisted to cheerlead and shower their listeners with free tickets to encourage word-of-mouth marketing. After Houston, where local radio personality Mike Berry gave away hundreds of tickets, “2016” opened in Nashville and Baton Rouge, then Denver, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles. Now it’s playing at 10 D.C. area theaters. Ads have appeared on Fox News, MSNBC and the History channel.
In 87 minutes, using D’Souza’s texts as a foundation, “2016” declares that the absence of his father compelled Obama to overachieve his way to the presidency, which he was able to obtain largely because of his skin color, and that he is waiting until his second term to implement the anti-colonialist policies of his father, his fellow activists and his professors by stripping wealth from the upper classes, bankrupting the country so it can be remade into a socialist state, depleting America’s nuclear warheads and permitting a “United States of Islam” to align between Morocco and Pakistan and squelch Israel.
“I’m conservative, but open-minded, and will want to watch it again,” says Frank, a federal employee who lives in the District and declined to give his last name. He learned about the movie Sunday on Facebook and attended the 12:50 p.m. showing Monday at Regal Gallery Place. “I never thought about the colonial background. It’s interesting that they’ve thought about what could happen” if Obama is reelected.
A ballooning debt is one of the most nefarious elements at play in this mix, says “2016” producer Gerald R. Molen, who won an Oscar for “Schindler’s List” and is making his first foray into documentaries.
“I’m in my 70s. I have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and want them to have the same opportunities I’ve had in this country,” Molen says. “I haven’t been in one screening yet where there hasn’t been applause at the end, and that’s kind of gratifying. People come out and say, ‘I learned a lot.’ Some have said, ‘It frightened me.’ ”
Sullivan hopes to expand the film to 1,500 theaters this weekend. The obvious analogue to “2016” is Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a documentary with a partisan agenda, a fierce polemic edge and a release timed to a presidential election — though Moore’s grossed $24 million during its opening weekend.
Sullivan says it was no coincidence that the film has opened wider as the presidential campaign heats up. So if Obama is reelected, does that mean D’Souza and Sullivan failed?
“Did Michael Moore fail because Bush got reelected?” Sullivan asks in response.
Eva Rodriguez contributed to this report.