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Dinesh D'Souza's 'America' fails miserably as a documentary

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America: Imagine the World Without Her

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Is it even possible to write a review of Dinesh D’Souza’s latest documentary “America: Imagine the World Without Her” without it seeming the least bit biased? Many who have slammed it have been greeted by comments accusing them of being blinded by President Obama’s “socialist” brainwashing, and those who praise it get accused of watching Fox News too much among other criticisms. Is there any way to view this documentary in an objective manner? Moreover, will anyone allow those who see it to review it in an objective manner? Well, I’ll give it a shot, but I can already see a number of comments coming my way that are both good and bad.

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“America: Imagine the World With Her” starts off with D’Souza meditating on what this country would have been like had George Washington been killed on the battlefield, and it is followed by images of institutions like Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial vanishing into dust. From there, he explores the dark history of America and a number of well-known individuals whom he believes have done nothing than shame America rather than looking at what makes it one of the best countries on Earth.

“America” gets off to a shaky start because, from the trailers, it seemed as though D’Souza was going to present an alternate reality of what the country would like if Washington died early on, but he all but drops that concept and instead goes on a different path. If that was the case, then why did he bring up the question of what this country would be like he never if intended to answer it? Maybe he came to the conclusion that a number of different things could have happened as a result, and to narrow it down to one would be difficult if not impossible.

Now D’Souza makes it perfectly clear here that he loves America, and I have absolutely no doubt of that. On top of that, I would never dream of taking his love of this country away from him as it has given him much success. Having said that, there is an overabundance of shots throughout this documentary of him staring at various monuments like the White House, the Marine Corps War Memorial (a.k.a. the Iwo Jima Memorial) and Mount Rushmore to name a few. It’s as if he is hammering us with these images to make his love for the USA absolutely clear so that we have no doubt about it. After a while it becomes a nuisance and a self-indulgent one at that. The shot of him staring at Mount Rushmore from a helicopter was really all we needed to make this point clear.

D’Souza then takes an overview of the dark moments in America’s history, and then he uses those same moments to criticize a number of people (particularly on the left) whom he believes have used these historical events to shame the country and make it look like an evil place. From there, his intent with this documentary is to refute a lot of what we have been taught about American history and to demonize those he believes have taken away from this country and empowered others that are a threat to it. He accomplishes this by using old news footage, historical reenactments that feature notable figures like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas and interviews with a number of experts who tell Dinesh more or less what he wants to hear.

Regarding the historical reenactments, they come across as bland and boring, and they are seriously lacking in any sort of depth. The acting is pedestrian, the staging lacks much in the way of excitement, and the special effects are ridiculously cheap to put it mildly. There’s even a scene where we see Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, sailing towards America, and it seriously looks like someone just put three toy boats in a river and filmed them. You’d figure that a documentary produced by Gerald R. Molen, a man who worked on many of Steven Spielberg’s movies including “Jurassic Park” and “Minority Report,” would have higher production values to work with, but that’s not the case here.

When it comes to the genocide of American Indians, D’Souza claims that a lot of it was the result of different Indian tribes attacking one another over land. Granted, there is some truth to Indian tribes fighting one another and we have seen this portrayed in movies like “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last of the Mohicans,” but this argument only carries so much weight and D’Souza really only skims the surface of it. Sure, he gives the audience a lot of graphics that you would find in a power point presentation, but it comes off like a copy of Cliff Notes which might give you just enough information, but not everything you need to hear.

On top of that, D’Souza claims that the majority of Indians lost their lives due to diseases like measles among others. It was at this point that I started to get confused as to what D’Souza was trying to get across. Was he saying that the Indians were more susceptible to diseases than others? What life has taught me is that diseases of all kinds do not discriminate like humans do. Some groups of people might be more susceptible to a particular disease more than others, but that doesn’t change the fact that diseases like measles are capable of affecting everybody and anybody. As a result, what D’Souza ends up implying with this assertion feels not only baseless but completely out of line.

As for how he deals with the issue of slavery, I have to give D’Souza some credit because even he has to admit that slavery was not just a problem in America but in different other countries throughout history as well. But after that, he goes into how certain blacks, before slavery was abolished, ended up owning slaves as well. He also brings up the story of C.J. Walker who became known as the first female self-made millionaire in America and how she made her fortune through a successful line of beauty products for black women. Now on one hand it’s interesting to learn about Ms. Walker, but after a time I started to wonder what D’Souza was trying to prove here. Is it that slavery was nowhere as bad in America as it was in other countries because we have examples like C.J. Walker to combat what history has taught us? Looking back, I got the impression that he really glossed over the barbaric treatment that many slaves received, and it was very brutal to the point that many Americans are still not willing to forgive and forget that it happened. He also describes the abolition of slavery in America as being “uniquely western,” but considering that the movement to abolish slavery had its roots in European urban culture and the fact that the Atlantic slave trade came to an end before American slavery, this is not altogether accurate.

Things in “America” get worse from there as D’Souza goes about defending capitalism by showing a scene where we see multiple versions of him running a fast food joint and cooking hamburgers. This was a moment where he could have had some fun with his own image, but in the process of trying to be humorous, he ends up taking himself too seriously and comes off as unintentionally goofy. Furthermore, he goes on to talk about how ordering a hamburger from his faux restaurant is cheaper than making one at home with the same ingredients. This is a weak argument to say the least as I have visited far too many fast food joints in the past month, and none of the burgers I bought came close to the price D’Souza was offering for his. Seriously, I save more money by eating at home.

D’Souza even goes on to say that America’s wealth was created and not stolen like many have suggested and that colonial Manhattan was purchased from American Indians for $700. Considering that there is a lot of evidence available of how the Indians, a people never to be mistaken as immigrants, were driven from the lands and killed, I can’t help but wonder if they sold this land by choice or under duress. This is a part of history that deserves a closer look and I hope to research it in more detail. But while I was watching this segment, I was reminded of what comedian Bobcat Goldthwait once said:

“America is one of the finest countries anyone ever stole.”

After that, D’Souza then directs his ire at a number of “leftists” such as Saul Alinsky, Hilary Clinton, Matt Damon, Howard Zinn and of course President Barack Obama. The way he sees it, they are responsible for exploiting the dark moments of American history and for attempting to rewrite it in the process. Essentially, he paints these people as individuals who have done nothing more than make the USA look like a shameful and evil place to live. It is from there that “America” becomes nothing more than a propaganda piece designed to deliver a lot of fear-mongering to the masses.

Look, I have no problem with Americans criticizing President Obama when it’s within reason. The fact that he said that the Affordable Care Act would allow you to keep the insurance you have proved to be a little misleading (and that’s being generous), but many of D’Souza’s criticisms feel like they are based on deep seated fears rather than actual facts. When “America” begins, he states that the three things he feared would happen under an Obama administration did happen, but they are probably still open to debate as President Obama did get elected to a second term.

But D’Souza’s sights are set mostly on Hilary Clinton who may or may not be running for President in the near future. The way he sees it, she was subverted in her early years by leftists and socialists whom he believes forever corrupted her worldview, and the way he presents Hilary in a series of reenactments reeks of shameless manipulation more than anything else.

As for the other “leftists,” D’Souza uses Matt Damon as an example of the hypocritical Hollywood celebrity in that Damon has talked a lot about income equality, and yet his movies like “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” have made hundreds of millions of dollars. D’Souza says that Damon is a movie star because American audiences paid tons of money to see his movies. While there’s truth to this, it made me wonder what exactly D’Souza was trying to get across. Is it that if Damon wasn’t a movie star it wouldn’t matter what criticisms, be it justified or otherwise, he would have about America? Again, he fails to make his point clear on this.

One public figure that really gets dragged over hot coals in “America” is Saul Alinsky, the legendary community organizer and writer. D’Souza pretty much portrays Alinsky as the devil in the disguise and attempts to use the man’s own words against him. He even goes out of his way to say that Alinsky learned many things from Lucifer like strategies for demonization and polarization. In retrospect, the way D’Souza portrays Alinsky makes the American organizer across as a one-dimensional villain in your typical action flick. I imagine there is more to Alinsky than what we see here, but to tell us more about him just might take away from D’Souza’s overall argument, an argument that was pretty weak to begin with.

But perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious and eyeball-rolling moment in “America” comes when D’Souza brings up the fact that he was indicted on making illegal political contributions to a 2012 United States Senate campaign. He ended up pleading guilty on a charge of using “straw donors” to make these illegal donations, and he is currently awaiting sentencing. To his credit, D’Souza does not deny this charge and admits in that he did do something wrong, but it all leads to a staged shot of him sitting in a holding cell with handcuffs on. The way D’Souza sees it, he’s a victim of persecution by the government due in large part to the success of his previous documentary “2016: Obama’s America” which proved to be a surprising success at the box office. Now whether or not D’Souza was being sought out for persecution by the Obama Administration might be up for debate, but this staged moment proves to be shamelessly self-serving to where he wants us to believe that he’s a victim more than anything else. Considering that he knowingly committed a crime which he, of his own free will, plead guilty to, does he really have the right to play the victim card?

Looking back at “America: Imagine the World Without Her,” my reaction to it isn’t all that different from how I react to watching a Michael Moore documentary. Their movies make me want to do a lot of research into the subject matter they are dealing with to see how accurate they are to the facts and to see what else I could possibly learn about America in the process. “Sicko” made me want to take a closer look at how other countries handle their health care systems as compared to the United States. D’Souza’s documentary makes me want to buy a copy of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” look more into the life of Saul Alinsky and explore some of the facts he brings about slavery and what happened to the Indians. Many accuse Moore of playing loose with the facts, but if that’s true then D’Souza really isn’t all that different.

D’Souza and his co-director John Sullivan came into “America” with a lot of passion which does come across onscreen, but it is still filled with many illogical arguments that don’t carry much weight, and while D’Souza may accuse some of trying to rewrite history, he ends up more or less doing the same thing here. It is also weighed down by poorly directed and acted reenactments that don’t leave much to the imagination, and D’Souza spends the majority of his time onscreen implying things rather than trying to prove them. Seriously, if he were to turn all this in as a term paper, he would have ended up with a failing grade (or a D- if he was lucky).

When it comes to the United States of America, we all have a love/hate relationship with it. We love the freedoms it provides, but we get increasingly critical of it when it lets us down (and it has let us down a lot recently). In some ways I sympathize with D’Souza in that there are times where we hear people complain too much about the USA to where we just want people to shut up and move to another country. But at the same time we still need to learn from history in the hopes that we don’t repeat it, and perhaps many of the people D’Souza’s criticizes throughout this documentary are attempting to do just that. D’Souza has the right to examine American history as much as he wants, but he is in as much a position to rewrite it as is anyone else (which is to say, not at all).

I always thought that it was incredibly difficult to make a bad documentary, but D’Souza and Sullivan have succeeded in doing so with “America: Imagine the World Without Her.” In the end, the criticisms it receives will matter very little as it has been embraced by the crowd it was made for. But whether or not you accept his view on America history, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a poorly made film that has little to show for its arguments and exists as nothing more than a boring propaganda piece. D’Souza is free to make the movies he wants to make, but next time he’s got to make points and arguments that stand up to scrutiny. At the very least, he needs to get a much better handle on American history.

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