Dinesh D’Souza felt that President Obama had been telling his story to Americans for years. The conservative author wanted to give them a different version.
So he worked on a documentary, “2016: Obama’s America,” that put the president in a more critical light. And apparently, there’s an audience that agrees with D’Souza’s vision.
In its first week in wider distribution, the documentary grossed an estimated $6.2 million, far exceeding industry expectations, according to independent distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures. That was virtually the same amount as the major studio action film “Premium Rush” collected – and “Obama’s America” was playing in roughly 1,100 fewer theaters.
“I realized Obama was telling his own story in his own voice and thought it would be interesting to use his voice in a documentary where it would be indisputable to people that this was Obama’s own narrative,” said D’Souza, who wrote and directed the film with John Sullivan.
The film draws heavily from D’Souza’s life, as he describes how coming to study in America from his native India helped to shape his political ideology. Throughout the 90-minute film, he often addresses the camera face-forward, pointing out the similarities between his upbringing and Obama’s. Many of the author’s arguments about Obama’s support of anti-colonialism are drawn from D’Souza’s controversial book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” and the movie frequently uses dramatic re-enactments featuring unknown actors to depict past events.
Heading into the weekend, prerelease audience surveys suggested “Obama’s America” would gross about $4 million – but by midday Friday, ticket sales were so brisk that estimates were lifted to $6 million. The movie debuted seven weeks ago in Houston and had raked in $2.4 million as it expanded from 169 theaters to 1,091 locations this weekend. In total, the film has sold $9.1 million worth of tickets.
“I’ve always felt that there is a real hunger for Obama out there and a sense that there’s something about him that escaped full understanding,” D’Souza said of the film’s success. “The large crowd for the film shows that there’s more interest than usual in politics and a real political anxiety in the country about the future of the American dream.”
Last year, D’Souza’s book “Roots” was publicly denounced by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and Vice President Biden, among other Obama supporters. The writer, also president of King’s College in New York City, said he began formulating an idea for his first documentary when he heard the audio version of Obama’s autobiography.
The author was also hopeful that given the right timing, the film – which he co-directed – might replicate the success of Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”