His documentary Death of a Nation scores $2.3 mil., but underperforms compared to his anti-Hillary film
If recent history teaches us anything, it's that Donald Trump never does anything without self-interest in mind.
Just over two months ago he pardoned conservative filmmaker and convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza, who pled guilty in 2014 to making an illegal campaign contribution. So what did Trump get out of it? Now we know: a cinematic hand job in the form of the new documentary Death of a Nation.
D'Souza's film, which ludicrously equates the 45th president with the 16th -- Abraham Lincoln -- collected $2.3 mil. at the box office in its opening weekend.
Lincoln was elected to unite a country and stop slavery. Democrats smeared him, went to war against him, assassinated him. Now their target is Trump.
"Lincoln was elected to unite a country and stop slavery. Democrats smeared him, went to war against him, assassinated him. Now their target is Trump," D'Souza narrates in the trailer. If that doesn't stroke Trump's sense of grievance and injured vanity, I don't know what will.
The debut of Death of a Nation comes amid a summer of success for more left-leaning documentaries, including RBG, the film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Won't You Be My Neighbor? about the deeply humane television personality Fred Rogers (though it bears repeating, as Morgan Neville does in his film, that Rogers was a lifelong Republican).
D'Souza's film can be perceived as a right-wing retort to the liberal trend -- "The Empire Strikes Back" for conservatives. But before any Trumpers whoop for joy, it's worth pointing out that Death of a Nation did a less than stellar $2,345 per screen at each of its 1,005 locations, a more modest take than the debut of his previous documentary, Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. That film, released in the midst of the 2016 presidential contest, went on to make over $13 mil. at the domestic box office, but Death of a Nation's prospects appear less grand.
D'Souza's 2012 film, 2016: Obama's America, earned more than $33 mil., making it one of the most successful documentaries of all time.
Death of a Nation indulges in the same intellectual dishonesty as D'Souza's anti-Hillary doc. In both films, the director speaks of the Democratic Party as if the one of today were precisely the same as the one of Lincoln's time. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Republican Party of today is what the Democratic Party of the 19th century was -- the bastion of "state's rights" rhetoric (code for discriminatory policies) and anti-African-American sentiment. In other words, Trump's GOP has become a white nationalist party, just as the Democratic party of Stephen Douglas was in the 1850s.
President Lincoln's GOP was a progressive party that believed in taking the Declaration of Independence at its words - that all men are created equal. He would be horrified to see the issues fought over in the Civil War, i.e. enfranchisement of black citizens, contested continuously, with the Republican Party he helped found now promoting voter suppression, mass incarceration and other policies whose purpose is to keep African Americans in second-class status.
For a more accurate political history of the United States than D'Souza is interested in supplying one need only google "President Nixon's Southern strategy." This was the cynical strategy whereby Nixon offered a home in the GOP to white Southern Democrats who detested President Johnson's civil rights and voting rights initiatives. The scheme worked beautifully and Southern racists have found themselves comfortably accommodated within the Republican Party ever since. D'Souza's Death of a Nation represents the death of truth, another casualty of the Trump presidency.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.