OKLAHOMA CITY -- Filmmaker and commentator Dinesh D’Souza’s new motion picture -- “America” -- engages conflicting contemporary narratives about the meaning of our country, incorporating the pain and promise of the past with hopes for the future.
Is ours the most hopeful and idealistic nation in history (as in the view of musician Bono) or a scourge on the planet and the world’s worst oppressor (as in the works of Michael Moore)?
Last month, D’Souza showed an almost-final version of the film to an audience in Oklahoma, where many of the historical reenactments were filmed. Subtitled “Imagine the World without Her,” the finished product opened to limited release June 27, and nationwide on Wednesday (July 2).
This film will simply infuriate some people, and surprise others. The documentary’s 103 minutes fall into roughly three sections: A reasonably fair summary of a five-part hard-Left indictment of the nation and its history; a rebuttal of those charges; and a full-throated, at times polemical, affirmation that ours can be, more than ever, the land of the free.
Blending archival film footage with news clips and History Channel-style reenactments of American history, including words from Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick A. Douglas (arguably at least the greatest African-American in our history); and stirring battle scenes from the Civil War and the founding Revolutionary War.
In the Revolutionary War sequences, D’Souza asked a provocative question, one that might be worth a future film in its own right: What if George Washington had been killed at the Battle of Bradywine, and thus never lived to become the first U.S. president?
The filmmaker’s purpose is essentially to speculate that if Washington had died, there might never have been an America.
Many will disagree with D’Souza’s theme that the War Between the States was primarily about ending slavery.
Virtually every fan of Barack Obama will be angered over the film’s summary of the president’s worldview, not to mention acolytes of Hilary Clinton.
Yet, to borrow from a popular Evangelical Christian book of the last century, there is evidence here that demands (at least in the history books) a verdict.
D’Souza despises Saul Alinsky, author of “Rules for Radicals,” and makes no bones about that. Still, that first one-third of the story is infused with lengthy presentation of core charges against America straight from the mouths of Prof. Ward Churchill, former Weather underground leader Bill Ayers, historian Noam Chomsky, black nationalist Michael Eric Dyson, Charles Truxillo, and others.
Also featured in interviews with D’Souza is libertarian attorney Alan Dershowitz, a deft choice to articulate libertarian concerns about the state of American law and security in 2014.
On the one hand, Dershowitz is no fan of Edward Snowden, who leaked the National Security Agency documents to confirm what millions of Americans feared about Big Brother.
On the other hand, Dershowitz has emerged as one of the most articulate and sincere critics of the overly intrusive State, and the legal culture of over-criminalization, in which millions of Americans unwittingly commit felonies every day.
Among the most heartbreaking sequences in this wide-ranging documentary is the summary of the fate of Aaron Swartz, co-owner of Reddit and a harsh critic of federal crime-fighting tactics, who killed himself at the age of 26 in the midst of a prosecution many have labeled politically-driven.
Then, near the end, comes perhaps the most uplifting and inspirational segment, when part of a Georgetown University speech by Irish rock musician Bono is shown.
In that address, aiming both to affirm the importance of capitalism in combating poverty and defending foreign aid programs, Bono posed a rhetorical question:
“America is an idea, isn’t it? Great Britain's a great country, but it's not an idea.
“That's how we see you around the world… as one of the greatest ideas in human history. Right up there with the Renaissance... right up there with crop rotation… The Beatles' White Album...
“That idea, the America idea, it's an idea. The idea is that you and me are created equal. … The idea that life is not meant to be endured, but enjoyed. The idea that if we have dignity… if we have justice… then leave it to us, we can do the rest.”
Often inspirational, the film is still another manifestation of the deep divisions facing our country.
“America” is powerfully delivered and well-produced, an updated Declaration, a call for national restoration with liberty, and justice, for all.
The film is produced by Gerald R. Molen, co-authored by John Sullivan, Dinesh D'Souza and Bruce Schooley, directed by John Sullivan and Dinesh D'Souza.
Stay through the credits, to see and hear a hard-rocking rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. As Ronald Reagan once reflected, it’s the only national anthem in the world that ends with a question.