'2016': Inside the Messy Feud Behind the Anti-Obama Hit
Money, sabotage and girlfriend drama: Why the documentary's producers are on the attack -- against one another.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Dinesh D'Souza's first movie, 2016: Obama's America, has earned $33.5 million domestically to become the second-biggest political documentary of all time, behind Fahrenheit 9/11. But his success has been marred in part by a nasty legal feud with a partner who seeks a bigger slice of profits and more control over the film and its production company.
As an author and Hollywood novice, D’Souza needed help getting the $2.5 million movie off the ground. A friend from his church recommended he connect with attorney Christopher Williams and marketing executive Douglas Sain; each also had minimal experience in the movie business but knew how to raise funds.
The three became partners in Obama’s America Foundation, or OAF, with D’Souza maintaining 50 percent of the entity and Sain and Williams splitting the other half. Sain, though, became disenchanted with the arrangement and accused Williams of not pulling his weight, say insiders, so he sought to buy out the interest in OAF held by Williams, who instead sold a chunk of it to D’Souza, giving the conservative author majority interest in the firm.
Sain was incensed and on Oct. 3 sent a letter with a host of demands that included boosting his $10,000 monthly salary to $30,000, retroactive from December 2011 through April 15, 2013. He also asked to draw at least $5,000 monthly for the next 14 1/2 years. In all, Sain sought $1.25 million that he hadn’t previously been entitled to receive. D’Souza ran the demands by Gerald Molen, the Oscar- winning producer of Schindler’s List who had been brought on as a 2016 executive producer, and he told D’Souza to reject them.
“Sain was acting totally inappropriately,” Molen tells THR. D’Souza began an arbitration Oct. 17, but when news broke that D’Souza, 51, was engaged to marry a younger woman though not yet divorced from his wife — a charge that prompted him to resign as president of the evangelical King’s College in New York — Sain pounced. He filed two lawsuits accusing D’Souza of spending OAF’s money on his girlfriend and improperly boosting his commissions. He also claimed the OAF deal was invalid. “Once it became apparent that the movie’s success was going to exceed financial expectations, D’Souza began to violate the Operating Agreement in pursuit of his own interests,” says a suit filed Oct. 22 in San Diego by Sain against D’Souza and OAF. D’Souza tells THR, “Doug saw an opportunity to capitalize on events in my personal life and make further slanderous accusations.”
D’Souza responded by accusing Sain of holding OAF hostage, including trying to sabotage a deal with Lionsgate, which released the film Oct. 16 on DVD without Sain’s cooperation. Sain denies those allegations. “[D’Souza] disregarded agreements, orchestrated a transfer of shares contrary to agreements and obstructed and diverted earned revenues from the company for his personal benefit,” he says. On Oct. 25, a judge sided with D’Souza, sending the dispute to arbitration.
Even as the case remains unresolved, D’Souza is planning his next movie, which might be a documentary about Christianity’s impact on the world. Suffice it to say, Sain won’t be involved.