Convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza presents film critics with two separate but inextricable dilemmas. The first is that any sincere effort to review one of D’Souza’s documentaries — he’s released a new one every other July since 2012 — fundamentally debases both the medium of film, and the act of criticism. The more insidious problem is D’Souza wants writers to pan his work and attack his person.
A right-wing ideologue who has distorted American history since before it was cool, D’Souza knows when “mainstream media” savages his sociopolitical screeds, it only makes him more credible to his core audience of racists and Randians. A single triggered snowflake is worth at least two thumbs up, which probably explains why the fine people at D’Souza Media sent me an unsolicited screener of “Death of a Nation,” even though I awarded both “America: Imagine the World Without Her” and “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” with matching “F” grades (and they received a 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
They know full well that most of the people who read IndieWire wouldn’t go see “Death of a Nation” if it were the only thing they could actually get tickets for on MoviePass. All press is good press, even when the press is the enemy. Everything becomes ammunition when you’re fighting a war against the fabric of reality.
So why bother? Why feed the beast? Is there any upside to spilling new ink on the same old stain?
Maybe. Maybe not. But the truth remains that D’Souza’s revisionism is too popular to ignore, his conspiracy theories too widely accepted as fact. Even his lowest-grossing documentaries made more than $10 million at the box office, putting them on par with monster hits like “RGB” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” He may be preaching to the choir, but the choir has grown so loud that millions of other Americans can no longer hear themselves think. We can call them lunatics, but we can’t pretend that no one takes them seriously.
And so — like moths to the flame — we reckon with D’Souza’s latest (and least coherent) attempt to repackage the intellectually bankrupt alternate history lessons he trotted out in previous works. The meandering and insufferable “Death of a Nation” is little more than a greatest-hits collection of its creator’s favorite neocon conspiracy theories, which frame the Democratic Party for the fascistic tendencies embodied by Donald Trump.
Again combining the patronizing hokeyness of a Michael Moore documentary with the credibility of a 4chan post about Pizzagate, D’Souza’s latest touches on all of his favorite talking points: Liberal ideals are fundamentally antithetical to the spirit of the United States. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, so black voters should reconsider who has their best interests at heart. Democratic President Woodrow Wilson screened D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House, so the left is responsible for all of America’s current social ills. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Chuck Schumer represent the three heads of Cerberus, the original dog from hell.
These are the same dim arguments that D’Souza has trotted out since 1995, when his book “The End of Racism” made inferences towards African-American inferiority, and claimed that slaves were “treated pretty well.” But now that many of D’Souza’s worst ideas have been normalized to the point where he can no longer present them for shock value, he’s been forced to crank the craziness up to 11.
This time around, liberals are full-on Nazis destroying the country in order to remake it into a socialist dystopia where class oppression is the only currency that counts (at one point, he infers that gun control is the Kristallnacht of the 21st century). Lincoln was a holy martyr whose destiny has finally been fulfilled by Donald Trump. Wilson’s “The Birth of a Nation” screening didn’t just reignite the Ku Klux Klan; it also paved the way for Antifa to emerge 100 years later. (Curiously, the film’s interest in Charlottesville doesn’t extend to David Duke.)
Obama and his cronies aren’t just evil, they’re trying to instigate another Holocaust (D’Souza’s voiceover narration: “The Nazi Platform reads like something written by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders”). If you can’t believe that “Death of a Nation” opens with a dramatic recreation of Hitler’s suicide, just wait until you get to the scene where the Führer’s high command essentially designs the Final Solution by doing a Google search for “Democrats.”
Other interesting things you might learn by suffering through “Death of a Nation”: Gandhi was a brown nationalist, so liberals shouldn’t attack Trump for being a white one. Josef Mengele was a “progressive” because he wanted to push science forward, and he only became an abortionist after the war because it allowed him to continue his career of legally sanctioned “murder.” To continue supporting the Trump agenda during the midterm elections and beyond, Republicans must harness the bravery and courage of anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl (whose fatal heroism is dramatized in this film’s interminable climactic sequence).
Having said all that, “Death of a Nation” isn’t all bad; at one point, Richard Spencer basically tells him that premise of this movie doesn’t make sense. Not that it does much to endear you toward Spencer, but — as with “Alien vs. Predator” — the sooner one of these monsters defeats the other, the sooner you get to go home.
“How do you kill a nation?” D’Souza wonders aloud. But this, like all of his movies, is more of a dopey tutorial than a legitimate defense. Paraphrasing Hitler, D’Souza repeats the old truism that “If you tell a big enough lie, and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” If nothing else, “Death of a Nation” makes it clear that the lies are bigger than ever, and we can’t afford to pretend they’re going to stop any time soon.
“Death of a Nation” opens in theaters August 3.