The 2012 Election on DVD: Obama/Political Documentaries

With the presidential election nearly upon us, here are reviews of three documentaries that intend to reveal a bit more about the office, the man who currently has the title, and our political system in general.

Barack Obama: From His Childhood to the Presidency. color & b/w. 45+ min. Biography: A&E Television Networks, dist. by New Video, 800-314-8822; 2012. DVD ISBN 9781422921791. $19.95. POLITICS/BIO
Barack Obama is the Biography Channel’s examination of the life of the first African American president of the United States. It traces the now familiar tale of Obama’s childhood in Hawaii and Malaysia, his education at Columbia and Harvard universities, his meeting of and marriage to Michelle Robinson, the launch of his political career in Illinois and his win of a seat in the U.S. Senate, and, finally, the nomination for the Democratic candidate for President in 2008. The film also illustrates how Obama came to grips with his absentee father and his identity as a mixed-race child. The story is told through commentary from family members, friends, and political advisors. Bonus material covers Obama’s first term in office.
Verdict This largely laudatory film covers familiar ground and presents no new information or perspective on Obama. Still, it provides an accessible overview of the life of a fascinating man.

Fear of a Black Republican. color. 111 min. Kevin J. Williams, Shamrock/Stine Prods., 2012. DVD UPC 884501481113. $195 + $8 s/h. Public performance available. POLITICS
In Fear of a Black Republican, director Williams, a Republican and resident of Trenton, NJ, sets out to understand why his party takes little interest in the concerns of urban areas and why less than ten percent of African Americans consider themselves Republicans. Over the course of four years and two presidential elections, Williams examines local, state, and national contests and interviews a score of candidates. He also considers the reasons why African Americans moved from the Republican Party in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to become Democrats and why they continue to support that party in the 21st century. Williams comes to the conclusion that the national leadership of the Republican Party regards urban areas politically as lost causes and are uninterested in providing the necessary support for black Republican candidates.
Verdict This intelligent, thoughtful film adopts an exploratory tone similar to that of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me (1989). Its content and perspective recommend it to all viewers interested in contemporary politics.

Obama’s America 2016: Love Him, Hate Him, You Don’t Know Him. color. 90 min. Dinesh D’Souza & John Sullivan, Gerald R. Molen Prod., dist. by Lionsgate, 2012. DVD UPC 031398161950. $19.98. Closed-captioned. Rated: PG. POLITICS
Conservative author and commentator D’Souza (Godforsaken; What’s So Great About America?) attempts to build an intellectual framework for analyzing Obama administration policies. Central to this effort is the assertion that the President operates from an anticolonial mind-set, one favoring an expansive role of government at home that harms American interests abroad. Constructing his evidence on guilt by association, D’Souza states that Obama’s father held anti-American views, based on interviews with two associates and an article published in 1965. Obama was only four at the time and only met his father one other time following his parents’ divorce. D’Souza also points out that Obama’s grandfather Stanley Dunham was friendly with Frank Marshall Davis, poet and former member of the Communist party. He claims that Dunham wanted Davis to serve as a role model for his grandson. Obama mentions Davis in his 1996 autobiography Dreams from My Father but also writes that there was a three-year gap in their relationship. While the men did discuss the issue of race in America, Obama does not record other political conversations. D’Souza comments here on Obama’s relationships with radical preacher Jeremiah Wright, former member of the Weathermen Bill Ayers, late professor Edward Said, and left-wing Harvard law school professor Roberto Unger but provides no proof that these people helped forge an anticolonial mind-set in the President.
Verdict This film contains no material that would convince an open-minded viewer of the validity of D’Souza’s argument. Instead, D’Souza is preaching to the converted who already believe that Obama is a socialist. Not recommended.—Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Parkersburg Lib.

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox ( is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"