Was ‘2016’ the target of an organized conspiracy?
The movie 2016: Obama’s America has been remarkably successful for a documentary, becoming one of the five most successful such films at the box office. But last weekend saw a sharp decline in its box-office take – considerably higher than might have been expected from the film completing its 11-week run at many theaters, although not completely incredible for such an “elderly” film in today’s fast-moving multiplex cinema culture.
There has been some controversy about two possibly related events: a pirated copy of the film appeared on YouTube, and a widespread disinformation campaign which falsely claimed that Fox News would be broadcasting the film last weekend. The pirated copy of the film has since been taken down from YouTube, after complaints of copyright infringement were made.
Dinesh D’Souza, co-writer and director of 2016, told the Hollywood Reporter, “The reports of the movie appearing on Fox before the election are completely untrue, and we strongly suspect that they are the result of dirty tricks by our opponents who spread this rumor in order to confuse the general public and keep them from going to their local theaters.”
It’s also possible that the announcement of the film’s impending release on DVD on October 16, which is just a few weeks away, will impact theatrical business, although that announcement was not made until Monday.
As for last weekend, it can be difficult to judge what kind of business any movie should have done. The film industry and entertainment media devote great energy to guessing box office returns, and none of them have anything approaching a perfect record. Indeed, the success of 2016 has generally taken them by surprise. There’s no denying that the disinformation emails announcing the mythical Fox News broadcast were widely disseminated, including by conservative bloggers who unwittingly spread the false information by reporting on those emails.
It’s quite likely that the intent of those emails was to suppress theater attendance, but nearly impossible to objectively verify how successful the campaign might have been, and any chance to test that effectiveness empirically probably dissipated with the announcement of the DVD and pay-per-view releases.