“Death of a Nation” and the Rightwing Documentary Ecosystem

I have been tracking the rightwing documentary economy and its leading personalities for several years.

I saw it as a lucrative sub-niche that had the potential to disrupt the largely “progressive” character of the American documentary community.

Then, several of the key characters, notably Stephen K Bannon and David Bossie, emerged as significant players in candidate and then president Trump’s kitchen cabinet.

I half-expected their circle to take control of U.S. public television organizations.

Gregory Crofton has tracked the story for my readers, writing valuable case studies and reports on their latest theatrical releases.

Here is his profile on Death of a Nation: Can We Save America a Second Time? It’s the latest documentary hit from the right.

by Gregory Crofton

Fresh from a pardon issued by President Donald J. Trump, rightwing flamethrower Dinesh D’Souza is back with a new documentary.

His film favorably compares Trump to Abraham Lincoln and likens the Democratic Party to Fascism.

With a nationwide release on August 3, Death of a Nation: Can We Save America a Second Time? earned $5,761,553 at the box office in a month.

Budget

  • $6 million.
  • (Source: USA Today)

Rotten Tomatoes vs Critics

  • Audiences love this film.
  • More than 5,400 people gave it a score 4.5 out of 5 stars and a 90% approval rating, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
  • But 11 critics have savaged it, resulting a 0% Fresh rating on the Tomatometer.

Documentary Box Office 2018

Other D’Souza Films:

Dinesh D’Souza has been enriched by his documentary career.

  • Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party (2016)
    Box Office: $13,099,931
    Domestic Video: $2,595,602
  • America: Imagine the World Without Her (2014)
    Box Office: $14,444,502
    Domestic Video: $4,192,082
  • 2016 Obama’s America (2012)
    Box Office: $33,349,941
    Domestic Video: $7,141,119
  • (Source: The Numbers.com)

Book: Best Seller

Taglines Differ

  • Book: “Plantation Politics and the Death of the Democratic Party.”
  • Movie: “Can We Save America A Second Time?”

“Obama’s America” – #5 all-time!

  • Gerald R. Molen, the Hollywood producer who worked with Steven Spielberg on “Schindler’s List” and “Jurassic Park” mentored D’Souza as he made the transition from ultra-conservative author to film director.
  • D’Souza scored his biggest hit with his first film “2016 Obama’s America” (2012)
  • It is the #2 highest grossing political documentary by Lifetime Theatrical Gross after “Fahrenheit 9/11”  ($119,194,770).
  • And it ranks the #5 of all documentaries to date.
  • After Fahrenheit” the all-time leaders in the documentary category are:
    • #2: “March Of The Penguins” ($77,437,223)
    • #3: “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” ($73,013,910)
    • #4: “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” ($72,091,016).
    • (Source: Box Office Mojo)

Media Coverage Runs The Gamut

  • The Washington Post noted that Donald Trump Jr. attended its premiere.  WAPO ripped the work calling it “a warped, unrecognizable world,” stating that this “suspect history lesson forms the foundation of a call to arms.”
  • The New York Times took a different approach:
    • A reporter covered a screening in Ohio that was hosted by the Medina County Republican Women.
    • About 30 people attended. These are the people who are leaving positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
    • “This is the real history of the Democratic Party,” said David Wadsworth, who currently serves as clerk of courts in Medina County. “People don’t give us the credit, as Republicans, for not being the racist ones.”
  • USA Today focused on the reception of the film, specifically the stark difference between the opinions of its critics and those of D’Souza’s audience.
    • “This absurdly big chasm shows one group of people is absolutely outraged and wants to drive a stake into (the movie’s) heart,” D’Souza told the newspaper. “They are trying to drive away mainstream viewers who might see the movie and be persuaded by it … meanwhile, the other group of people is fanatic, wildly spreading the world.”

Jail Time and Pardon

  • In 2014, Dinesh D’Souza was convicted of campaign finance violations.
  • A federal judge sentenced him to serve eight months in a community confinement center, five years probation, and ordered him to pay a $30,000 fine.
  • D’Souza had promised two people that he would reimburse them if they donated $10,000 each to a Republican candidate who was running for Senate.
  • President Trump signed a pardon in May, 2018, tweeting that D’Souza “was treated very unfairly by our government.”
  • The pardon is seen as a signal to subjects of the Mueller investigation that the President will reward their loyalty.

Peter’s Takeaways

  • Death of a Nation‘s $6+/- million box office is below D’Souza’s expectations and track record.
  • It is another signal that the Trump wave is fading, even among his hardcore followers.
  • It also surprises me that the Right has so far only created only crude works of documentary propaganda, the equivalent of Michael Moore’s work on the Left.
  • I’m not seeing the Right deliver strong, immersive storytelling about, say, a heroic white police officer and Iraq veteran who is denied promotion because of his hard line stance against local civil rights protests.
  • That is not the case for documentaries about U.S. foreign policy and its international allies.

More Coverage of the Right’s Documentary Economy