Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Grade : F Year : 2016 Director : Dinesh D'Souza, Bruce Schooley Running Time : 1hr 40min Genre :
Movie review score

It’s disingenuous to call the films of political commentator and activist Dinesh D’Souza “documentaries.” While they do not fit within the parameters of narrative filmmaking, they are hardly capable of being put in the same category of a “Woodstock” or a “4 Little Girls” or a “Hoop Dreams.” Documentaries, in their purest form, are objective looks at the world, or a small part of it, and chronicling events within it. For the record, the same could be said with pretty much every film Michael Moore has ever made, as well, with the possible exception of “Roger & Me.” Moore and D’Souza are essayists, not documentarians, filmmakers providing perspective on their subjects through their point-of-view. D’Souza could almost be said to be a documentarian with his breakout 2012 hit, “2016: Obama’s America,” but his new film, “Hillary’s America,” is straight-up commentary and, dare I say, propaganda. So was “2016” on the propaganda front, as was Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” to be honest, but “Hillary’s America” takes it to an entire new level. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn if this film was played at last week’s Republican National Convention, such is the one-sided and hyperbolic nature of the film. D’Souza makes like he’s blowing the lid off of hidden truths, but he’s more feeding red meat to starving wolves. The base will love it; the vast majority of others will recoil, or either roll their eyes in disbelief.

I do want to give D’Souza credit for one thing in his new film- he pinpoints exactly how meaningless the terms “Democrat” and “Republican” are in our two current incarnations of the parties. It’s not as secret as D’Souza makes us believe that Democrats were the party of slavery, and the Republican Lincoln was the one who abolished slavery- anyone with access to a textbook, or a DVD of “Lincoln,” could tell you that. Yes, the Democratic Party housed Strom Thurmond and the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. And yes, LBJ had to have his armed twisted to push through the Voting Rights Act, though not for the cynical reason of getting the black vote for Democrats for the next 2 centuries. (I’d love to see the archival proof of THAT exchange happening, beyond D’Souza and co-director Bruce Schooley’s over-the-top re-enactment. LBJ IS on record, however, of admitting he had just lost the Southern vote for Democrats in signing it, which did happen, regardless of how D’Souza wants to spin it.) Yes, the Klan made its beginnings as a Democratic institution, but I don’t see them, and other white supremacy groups, lining up behind the Democratic nominees for president this year when the Republicans are offering up a man who has generalized Mexicans as “rapists” and “drug dealers” and also called for a blanket ban of Muslims entering the country. And while I don’t question the racial motivations 19th and early 20th Century a KKK-infused Dems may have had to prevent blacks from exercising their 2nd Amendment rights, I also don’t see modern-day Republicans coming to the 2nd Amendment aid of someone like Philando Castile, a black man recently shot during a routine police stop, who was legally carrying a firearm, and ended up dead. The truth is, our ideas of Democrats and Republicans have changed over the years, and those party affiliations mean something different than they did during the founding of the parties, and if nothing else, D’Souza hammers that point home. Whether he does it terribly effectively in the way he intended to is another matter.

The film is, largely, a laughable affair from a substance perspective. It begins with D’Souza being sentenced on federal campaign-finance violations to eight months in a halfway house and a fine, with five years of probation. D’Souza makes the argument that he is targeted because “Obama wanted to shut me up” after his inflammatory “2016” became a big documentary hit the summer before the 2012 election. What he fails to include is that he admitted to the violations, and clearly, Obama failed in shutting him up, because including “Hillary’s America,” he’s made two films since “2016” (the other being 2014’s “America”). (Plus, his films are still readily available, and he’s still being allowed to write books and appear on TV. Obama sucks at his job.) On his time “inside,” he has his eyes opened by fellow prisoners, especially one named “Roc,” who lets him in on the way a good crime should go, especially if your goal is to steal from your mark. You don’t really have to be a thief to understand, or even realize, what “Roc” is saying about stealing, but it’s a revelation for D’Souza, who starts to read up on the history of the Democratic Party. What he discovers doesn’t jibe with what the “official” Democratic Party has as their message. He asks, “What are these Democrats trying to hide?,” as if he is doing an investigative report on a secret society. This doesn’t make D’Souza feel like a crusader for the truth rather than someone naive of the history of the country he immigrated to, and calls home. It’s 2015- how do you not know the Democratic Party started out on the wrong side of history with regards to slavery and Civil Rights? Of course they aren’t going to highlight that as part of their message to the American people- will we see many obituaries of George H.W. Bush highlight the 1988 “Willie Horton” ad? I’m thinking no. If D’Souza isn’t naive, then he clearly thinks his audience is; the question is, does his audience care one bit?

D’Souza’s primary focus, however, becomes exposing the sort of corrupt, wicked presidency Hillary Clinton, along with her husband, former President Bill, would usher in if she gets elected in November. Whitewater, Benghazi, the E-Mail scandal, the Clinton Foundation, the affairs of Bill, and Hillary’s beginnings as a “Goldwater girl” and disciple of Saul Alinsky are all namechecked in the last 30-40 minutes, and it plays like the sort of vicious, ALL CAPS screed you read on Facebook all the time about “Slick Willy” and “Shillary.” A big part of how “Hillary’s America” fails to hit the standards of a traditional documentary is its reliance of re-enactments. The cast credits are long enough to have come from one of those films producer Gerald R. Molen is credited with on the poster (which, let me say, is an embarrassment to see that a producer on great films like “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” is now relegated to schlocky documentaries), with only a handful of people appearing as themselves: D’Souza, Jonah Goldberg (a friend of D’Souza’s from the conservative National Review), Peter Schweizer (the author of Clinton Cash), and Carol Swain (a political activist who only seems to have been interviewed because she is African-American and dislikes the Democratic Party, although hers feels like the most genuine interview of the three). Each one paints a bleak picture of the Democratic Party and the Clintons that is as strong an example of “confirmation bias,” the notion of seeking out information that confirms something you already want to believe, I’ve ever seen in a movie. I would trust Michael Moore to make a more balanced portrait of the Clintons, and Democrats, than D’Souza because he’s shown himself unafraid, and more than willing, to criticize both (justly, I might add) over the years without resorting to the sort of comically absurd parodies we see in this film. The problem with a film like this, which is built so much out of re-enactments, is that the director is basically left to his own devices to make it either as authentic, or bombastic, as they choose. When it suits his purposes, D’Souza chooses authentic, such as when he is showing the real horrors of slavery and racism, and the strength of Lincoln, while in others, he chooses bombastic, which is basically any time he shows the Clintons, Obama, or when he sneaks his way into either Clinton or the Democratic Party Headquarters, although really, both sides are a bit bombastic here. The juxtaposition of those two make the film a tonal mess that, like propaganda, will only influence those who are already singing D’Souza’s tune.

There are genuine criticisms to be made about a Hillary Clinton presidency from a policy standpoint- she seems a little too cozy with Wall Street, she’s a little too hawkish in her foreign policy, both of which are a big part of where the “Bernie or Bust” crowd came from in the primaries (and part of the reason I didn’t vote for her myself)- and from a non-political perspective- do we really want our fourth president out of the last five named Bush or Clinton, and damn, whether she did anything criminal or not, that e-mail controversy is a big misjudgement. But D’Souza is hardly the person to make such a legitimate case for not voting for her, or even anyone with a (D) by their name. He may be from India, but he’s a conservative through and through, and all you have to do is look at the satanic image of Hillary on the film’s poster to know that if you ARE looking for a genuine critique of Clinton, you’re barking up the wrong tree. One of the hardest things when reviewing a film like this is to be impartial and leave your own politics at the door, something I tried to do with my review of “2016” four years ago, with mixed success. Even if I was the prime audience for D’Souza’s work, though, I would hope that I could put my personal political ideas aside, and see him as the hack filmmaker he is. He’s like the Michael Bay of documentary filmmakers- good at ratcheting up the spectacle, but not as good at bringing substance to those images. I can say this much for Bay, though- when he made his film about the Benghazi attack Republicans have spent years laying at the feet of Clinton in “13 Hours,” he left his personal politics at the door, and saw the events of that day with clear eyes and purpose (even if he didn’t do it well). Maybe D’Souza should take a page from him the next time he makes a movie.

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