Back to IndieWire

Review: Is Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘America’ The Worst Political Documentary Of All-Time?

Review: Is Dinesh D'Souza's 'America' The Worst Political Documentary Of All-Time?

America: Imagine The World Without
” is book-ended by scenes of co-director (and credited
“creator”) Dinesh D’Souza. At the start, he is a triumphant
filmmaker who made “2016: Obama’s America,” which he accurately
credits as “the second highest grossing political documentary of
all-time.” By the end, he’s referring to the charges against him of
completely transparent campaign finance law violation as a “mistake”
on his part, but also calling himself a victim of Obama’s America, a
martyr for loving his country too much (and also breaking the law and
being caught). In between is the weakest and most pathetic straw man
argument ever put to film, set to be released on the Fourth of July
for audiences who are sick of answering political arguments with,

“Incredible as it may seem, there are
people within America who want a world without America,” D’Souza
narrates, creating one of many false binaries the film attempts to
dissect. The thesis of the film is all over the place, as if D’Souza
knew full well he had a shoddy case study on his hands, instead
jumping around to observe America of the past, present and future.
The Civil War re-enactments (which feature a war re-envisioned by
D’Souza as “a war to end slavery”) stand alongside the notion of an
alternate reality death of George Washington. Were the movie to
follow that new history and all its intellectual implications, it
could have been intriguing and even a bit daring: recall the mock-doc
CSA: Confederate States Of America,” which humorously depicts a
country that lost that war.

Instead, we have D’Souza seated in
front of liberal firebrands, interviewing them and asking
embarrassing questions like why President Obama’s election didn’t
“end racism.” He gets to sit down with the likes of Noam Chomsky
to create the illusion that he won’t have the final, decisive word
off screen, usually in a show of foundation-less braggadocio. D’Souza
is an obnoxious personality on film: often wearing bleached mom jeans
and multi-colored thrift shop polo shirts, he speaks condescendingly
slow so that the cheap seats can hear him nice and clearly. His
speech has the sort of halting, faux-intellectual cadence that makes
you wish you were more of a bully in high school.

The film plays out like more of a
bullet-point presentation than an actual film, taking each argument
he thinks liberal minds are having and dissecting each,
cherry-picking anomalies in order to confront some sort of liberal
“truth” that doesn’t exist. He argues that discussions of the
history of slavery weaken our country and our resolve, and that the
true story of slavery is omitted from the collective narrative. That
“true history” involves the accusations that slavery had been a
part of several other countries’ evolutions (…yay?), that ONE major
slave owner (William Ellison) was black, and that the first female
millionaire in American history (Madam C.J. Walker) was in fact a
former slave. So, we can’t really talk about slavery’s negative
affects without discussing the potential character-building that was
going on. D’Souza’s flattery of the core audience is clearly more
important than the fact he might be fueling some very dangerous

He also addresses the issue of
Mexican-American immigration by being coy. Perhaps there is a real
lack of conviction in the way some of his interview subjects speak.
Or maybe the young man who claims the Mexican cartels would crush his
dreams back home is being fed lines from off-camera. There’s
considerable theatricality to D’Souza’s stunts that recalls the
director of the number one political documentary of all time. When
D’Souza dials up the smarm to pointlessly ask a border patrol cop how
many Mexican Americans critical of the American government cross back
over to Mexico, it’s straight out of the now-exhausted play-dumb
Michael Moore playbook.

And then there’s that doozy of an
ending. D’Souza plants the seeds of his anti-education jeremiad early
on by attempting to poke holes in Howard Zinn‘s “A People’s History
Of The United States
.” But that’s just a wind-up for an utterly
baffling segment where the book’s teachings are connected with
community organizer and liberal educator Saul Alinsky. The metaphors
and doubletalk end just about when D’Souza flat-out compares Alinsky
to Lucifer, before bemoaning his influence first on Hillary Clinton
and then on President Obama. For those of you keeping score at home,
the White House is under the control of the DEVIL. Of course, D’Souza
keeps refusing to probe deeper because he gets off on this sort of
name-dropping and hyperbole. When he devotes an extended riff to Matt
simply for mentioning “A People’s History Of The United
States” in “Good Will Hunting” (a seventeen-year-old movie, by
the way), his pitch lifts high enough almost into a voice-cracking
squeal. That semi-provocative opening involving an America without
George Washington suddenly feels miles away.

Of course, those aforementioned bullet
points merely hammer home that this is artless propaganda,
uninformed, sensationalistic and devoted to buzzphrases (“the
shaming of America”), simplicity (“have the United States been a
force for good or ill in the world?”) and grandstanding (“We
won’t let them shame us, we won’t let them intimidate us”—who
is them and who is us?). Insidiously, these are some of the ways
D’Souza and co-director John Sullivan keep the film brisk and
conventionally entertaining, not unlike a “Sharknado” sequel or a
particularly embarrassing YouTube video. Filled with soaring guitars,
pointless blacksmith montages and recreations with porn-level
production values (check out the sponge-wig on Frederick Douglass),
it’s all fist-pumping anti-thought, consisting of baseless
revisionist history and idle contrarianism. And maybe, deep down,
D’Souza knows it: one of the lasting images of the film is his
voiceover threatening, “Capitalists are under fire,” while he
watches Michael Moore give a speech on the Jumbotron, eating a Times
Square hot dog and standing in front of an Olive Garden. It would all
be so funny if it weren’t a total joke. [F]

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox