My wife and I were delighted to receive free tickets to Dinesh D’Souza’s latest film America: Imagine the World without Her, because we support all efforts to wake up Americans to the truth of America’s exceptional nature and to expose the lies being told about her. In this film, there are powerful moments, both touching and inspiring, and we celebrate both the themes and the extraordinary effort put into it. This critical review makes note of some weaknesses we found in the making of the movie, of the film as a film; however, we stand by every political, historical, social and economic defense Mr. D’Souza makes for our country and its culture.
In many ways, it saddens us to be critical of this film, because we recognize the desperate need to “seize the narrative©” stolen by the liberals, whose anti-American message pervades all media, from news to school curriculum to television shows and even to Christmas movies. America needs once again to hear the story of America as she really is and, while this film tries to do exactly that, unfortunately at times it doesn’t quite hit the mark. For us, the many strong sentiments and arguments made in the movie were penetrating and even, at times, deeply moving. However, we found that these were sometimes lost in the choppy attempt at a Hollywood style presentation overburdened with needless costumed re-enactments and other complications.
First and most importantly, the film never follows through with its premise, which is to imagine the world without America. True, American icons disintegrate before our eyes through the medium of clever animation. The Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and Manhattan Island skyscrapers vanish from the landscape. But nothing replaces them. It seems a wasted opportunity to show in grim detail that a world without America would indeed be uglier and less free. That image would have made a powerful and convincing statement for America.
Second, by way of interviews, Mr. D’Souza seems too ready to offer a platform to many of America’s de facto domestic enemies to state their case, without challenging them with vigorous debate and penetrating questions on their premises. Clearly, Mr. D’Souza’s intention is not really to sit impassively smiling and nodding while these demagogues berate the America he undoubtedly loves. After the interviews are over he offers, “But that’s not true” or “It didn’t happen that way” in his quiet monotone. We wished he would have used the word “liar” at least once, confronting them in the head-on attack their arguments deserved. Admittedly, that expectation is not quite fair to D’Souza, who is a careful, peaceable academic, intent on proving their lies through slow points of serene logic rather than fire and brimstone. But the left often scores greater points with its shrill lies than the right does with its quiet reasoning.
When a Native American woman tells him she hates Mount Rushmore and would like to take back the land and return to the life of the Plains Indian, D’Souza does not ask whether she uses a phone, lives in a house with running water, flushing toilets and electricity, or whether she drives a car or dresses in modern, factory-made clothing. These are all aspects of the civilization she despises and which replaced the brutal nomadic tribal lifestyle she claims to prefer. D’Souza fails to remind her of the uncomfortable truth that tribal culture meant war against and cruel treatment of other tribes, torture as entertainment, and destruction of nature, burning forests to chase out animals for prey or driving whole herds of buffalo over the edge of a cliff, leaving hundreds of carcasses to rot. Only AFTER her interview does he point out that HER tribe took the same land from other tribes. He could have dismantled her entire argument with a few truthful and pointed questions. Instead, he smiles politely, nods and lets her speak unfettered by reality.
D’Souza gives the hypocritical, fake “Indian” Ward Churchill several minutes of screen time to disgorge his pernicious venom openly, even espousing the potential use of bombs against the American people. D’Souza listens to the vitriol and nods his head as if Churchill’s duplicitous drivel equates with rational argument. D’Souza listens carefully to anti-American affronts by Noam Chomsky and explains Howard Zinn’s false narrative before presenting his mild-mannered, defensive replies which required analysis and were not always easy to follow.
Third, the tragic drama of slavery is repeatedly dramatized with recurring admissions and apologies. But such images only reinforce a tragic flaw when a simple admission would have sufficed.The awful history of slavery needs no reinforcement. No American alive today abides slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 and overwhelming measures have been taken since that time to address the injustices of American slavery. It is no longer a factor in American culture.
Moreover, conspicuously absent was Henry Louis Gates’s assertion that black Africans and Arab Muslims were as culpable—perhaps more culpable—in expanding the African slave trade, as were American slave-holders. No American today would hold slaves. But, in fact, slavery is currently alive in countries where anti-American sentiment runs high, for example in Sudan, where there is an active slave market, largely ignored by American media. Slavery in America does not deserve justification, but it does need hard truths emphatically articulated to clarify today’s realities about the subject and such clarification would likely have brought thunderous applause from the audience.
Fourth, the dramatic re-enactments served more to distract than to enhance the narrative Mr. D’Souza was endeavoring to tell. We see marginally convincing actors playing Washington, Lincoln and others. We watch an actor portraying Alexis de Tocqueville ride his horse through the countryside, drink with locals and write in his journal to illustrate his words. We see a fair impression of Frederick Douglass. But all these images could have been replaced by a few well-chosen words written by Douglas himself, and simply read by D’Souza. The words of the brilliant and self-made Douglass about individual initiative and the meaning of self-determination, would have done more to captivate audiences than expensive costumes on silent and somewhat sullen actors. Few words are more electrifying in precisely laying out the greatness that is American freedom and opportunity than those by the ebullient Douglass himself. In fact, the film would have been far better as a straight documentary without the costumes and loud music that often drowned out the spoken words.
Fifth, the value of capitalism was ineffectively presented. D’Souza could have pointed to Armour meats, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, and other splendid examples of how something as mundane as hot dogs can make millionaires of ordinary men with effort and initiative in an atmosphere that encourages free trade. Instead, D’Souza’s presents a comic hamburger skit that ineffectively and even inaccurately describes the vast promise of free markets that are a beacon of opportunity for everyone everywhere and which have brought about the highest standard of living ever experienced by ordinary people. This is one example of what the world would be like without America.
There are some wonderful things. In one inspiring moment, Bono of U2 fame gives a powerful definition of America as an idea that the world needs. “There are other good countries,” he asserts. “Ireland is a great country. But it isn’t an idea!” Bono’s praise of America drew rousing applause. The movie needed many more of these moments.
What was needed was an all-out attack against the lies of the left and a powerfully articulated summary of proofs telling why America is a great nation needed by the rest of the world. Facts speak for themselves and an energetic recital of the extraordinary standard of living and the unexcelled opportunities America affords, unlike any other country in human history, would be undeniable. Quiet defensiveness is no reply to the ubiquitous sucker-punches thrown by the left. The Left fights with passionate, ruthless lies. The Right needs warriors armed with the blunt weapon of truth.
People hunger for a simple explanation of America in short, memorable phrases they can repeat with great pride as a kind of mantra. Only a powerful message can effectively wake people up to that great truth of which Bono spoke: that America is an exceptional idea that uplifts its people, while the worn out ideas of the left only drag them down. American exceptionalism must be shouted loudly and proudly in brilliant burst of truth. That is what this film should have done.
FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse. You can find out more about FJ over at http://www.candiddiscourse.com/.