We can now officially add conservative Republicans to the list with African Americans, Latinos, elderly people, and evangelical Christians as segments of the population Hollywood could make specific movies for, but chooses to ignore. That’s an unorthodox coalition of people groups. And the GOP’s demographic base was the driving factor for a so called ‘surprise’ hit at the box office (not for me) this weekend for the documentary “2016: Obama’s America” that grossed $6.5 million at over 1000 locations. Its strongest large market performance was in my politically polarized city of Denver, Colorado.
Political documentaries always have an impassioned base support. However, during an election year, this base is amplified and motivated to mobilize into action. This is no exception for the new polarizing and controversial documentary (most political ones usually are) about President Barrack Obama “2016.” As many liberal documentaries preach to their choir, it seems this conservative leaning documentary that explores the past of Obama to envision what a future America will look like. However, an anti-Obama documentary has roots with an established Hollywood filmmaker. Gerald R. Molen collaborated on the productions of high profile films such as “Twister,” “Hook,” “Minority Report,” “Jurassic Park,” “Rain Man,” and “Schlindler’s List.” Fellow co-director Dinesh D’Souza, a former policy analyst for Ronald Reagan, is a prominent conservative author who wrote the popular book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”
The eventual distribution channel hasn’t been typical for a political documentary. After debuting in a single theater in Texas over a month ago, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures expanded the release of ‘2016’ into more then 150 locations last week to more conservative parts of the country. Reportedly, “2016” has done well in liberal New York City. Any box office analysis can count on one hand the number of documentary features that have expanded to this many locations. Typically a documentary playing in a big market like Denver will open in one, occasionally two, theaters. However, ‘2016’ opened in 11 theaters this past Friday with some locations hosting a 12:01am screening for those eager to see it! This film has established itself as a movie going event for conservatives perfectly timed before the Republican National Convention in Tampa the following week. Timing is everything, indeed. Yet, the media mostly ignores this trend and Hollywood was caught off guard when an underserved market shows up to a movie. And I can imagine liberal leaning critics will probably not be kind to this film. This is the kind of film that will catch the industry off guard. After all, “Premium Rush” and “Hit & Run” aren’t much competition.
This isn’t the first time a partisan documentary filmmaker fired up a political ideology by vilifying a sitting President during a big Election year. In 2004, Michael Moore made “Fahrenheit 9/11” about the George W. Bush Presidency. It rolled out into theaters and hit a nerve with the progressive MoveOn.org base and made a lot more money at less theatrical locations. I would be curious to know how well this movie would do if it was booked in many small towns. I assume it isn’t. However, what good did that movie do besides exaggerate the evils Bush administration and fire up a political base that couldn’t deliver results? A documentary should be able to convince undecided people of an opinion and not just pander to people who already practice what is already preached, per say. I reached out to the publicist for “2016: Obama’s America” on two separate occasions, the first time 11 days ago to get a perspective on the film, but never heard back.
What do you avid moviegoers think? Do politically partisan documentaries help bring awareness to an issue or is this divisive rhetoric to cash in on what’s the trendy political rage?