American Sniper: Lose/Lose Situation?

The recent debate about whether “American Sniper should be shown on campus has been a fascinating conversation to see unfold, no?

Prefacing this post with the fact that I have never seen American Sniper (a fact that should probably stop me from writing about it), I still thought I would ask any and all of you what your thoughts are about the topic. Like most points of contention in commentary about social issues, I believe the root of the issue is an inability to listen to the concerns of both sides. Listening to the concerns of each party is very different than listening to the arguments of each party. To hear each other’s concerns is to appreciate and realize the context in which the concern is created.

In this instance, I believe, both outcomes harm at least one party involved.

Those who rallied against the showing of American Sniper were concerned with the Islamophobic tendencies of American war propaganda. Though it may not be a conscious decision to alienate Arab and Muslim populations while watching a movie like American Sniper, the overwhelming research about subconscious judgments in film suggest that we are, in fact, heavily influenced by these depictions. In the set of American war movies historically, the protagonist is almost always a handsome, white male and the enemy (since the mid ‘90’s) has been middle-eastern and has been depicted in a barbaric fashion.

More importantly, a majority white campus has once again overruled concerns of safety raised by the Arab and Muslim populations on Michigan’s campus. That, in itself, is concerning.

That is not to say that I believe the movie shouldn’t be shown. In fact, to not show the film would be a marginal threat against free speech. The film is a huge success in American cinema and was a piece of work that did not explicitly put anyone at risk. Those who are against the showing of American Sniper may say that it did put them at risk, due to the nationalistic and racist response found in certain viewers nationally, but that discussion is one that I don’t believe merits discussion. I would simply ask: When is the last time that a movie didn’t catalyze a bigoted response from someone, somewhere?

It’s been sad for me to see the response made by those who are proponents of the American Sniper showing, and though I think their prescription is the best one, it seems to entirely neglect the marginalized and threatened voices on Michigan’s campus.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

4 thoughts to “American Sniper: Lose/Lose Situation?”

  1. When I first heard about this, I thought it would definitely be a violation of free speech to cancel the screening. I don’t think any movie, even one that perpetuates an opinion with which I disagree, should be censored, especially on a college campus where the friction of differing opinions breeds intellectual diversity. However, when I realized this would be taking place at UMix, I had to side with those protesting the screening. On Maize Pages, the description of UMix states that it offers “social events catering to the interests of a diverse student population.” That being said, UMix should have respected the students that felt uncomfortable with the Islamophobic themes in American Sniper. They did provide an alternative film screening at a different location, but I think American Sniper should have been the alternative.

  2. I also want to preface this post with the fact that I haven’t seen this film either, but I agree with the points you raise. They are critical ones. One fact I do want to mention is that Arab antagonists have been prevalent in American film since the 1920’s starting with old films such as Lawrence of Arabia. The Arab-centric tropes that have permeated the film industry have changed significantly over the years, shifting from depictions of harem owning malicious princes to crazed suicide bombers. I mention this only to substantiate your point that these stereotypes are left unnoticed by not only this generation, but several that have come before it. (I only know about this because of an AMCULT class called “From Harrems to Tarrorists” taught by Prof. Alsultany. Take it!)

    The fear that these depictions evoke in a predominantly Caucasian populace is what ignites fear and hatred towards Arab communities, as you have alluded to in your analysis. This fear is reflected in our government’s foreign involvement. The collateral damage from attacking supposed terrorist sites is massive and overlooked by the majority of Americans, where an estimated 133,000 civilians were killed during America’s involvement in Iraq alone. So the scales are “unbalanced,” as uneasy inappropriate as that sounds. The attacks of 9/11 were certainly detrimental to our country, but the manner of our military repose was unwarranted.

    Allowing American sniper to air is essential, because it will allow criticism to occur and shed light on the issue of racism towards Arab people as a whole and our treatment of them nationally and internationally. I agree that it is disheartening to see people respond the way they do, but take solace in the fact that such visceral reactions are a necessary prerequisite for constructive debate, and thus solutions. To speak to your point about hearing both sides perspectives instead of arguments, I think that giving those who felt endagered by the showing the right to express their fear is legitimate. People may react correctly or incorrectly to a piece of artwork, but through discussion we can reach settlments, even if in the end it concludes in saying “hey, you’re turning this into something bigger than it really is.” It is impossible for us who are not of Arab decent to truly know the discrimination they face, but creating an evnironment in which both sides can deliver clear exposition is vital.

    In the interest of ending on a positive note, allow me to deviate slightly. Open criticism is essential to mediating social issues, but I think comedy is the best way to succinctly, effectively, and constructively criticize any of them (which happens to be the topic of my remediation project). Louis C.K. delivered a spot on bit about this very “imbalance”:

  3. Hi Evan,
    Your post shows that you have thoroughly researched this event, despite not seeing the movie. I saw American Sniper the second weekend it was out, and one of the scariest parts of my experience was not something that occurred in the film. The theater was packed, and my brother and I just barely got tickets before the show sold out. One of the recurring icons in the movie is the Punisher logo that Chris Kyle adopts while he is fighting overseas. When I was exiting the theater after the film finished, I saw another audience member wearing a shirt that had the Punisher logo on it.
    There was a large amount of controversy surrounding this movie even before the Umix event, and I think my experience showed some of the potential implications of buying into the movie’s perspective. We should respect the work Chris Kyle performed for his country, but I don’t think we should envy him for it. The person wearing a Punisher shirt to the film implied that he wanted to be Chris Kyle by adopting his logo. It’s scary to think that someone would want to be known as the deadliest sniper in American history, and I think that the protests against showing this movie on campus had a valid point. There doesn’t seem to be a right answer to this problem, but I am thankful they provided an alternate film as well.

  4. I agree with all of these points, and am pleased to know that there are so many intelligent and informed students who aren’t afraid to consider the opinion of others on this campus. Since I got to be a part of the process, I’d like to take a look at the media’s portrayal of this scenario.

    First, I’ll preface by saying that I’m a big believer in not shying away from opportunities to learn and grow. I think this movie should be shown, but it should be shown in a context where students can express their thoughts and ideas in an open forum or dialogue. As Andrea mentioned, that is not what UMix is for. It would be like bringing a dialogue on affirmative action to a birthday party.

    However, I feel comfortable in saying that both sides of the media took this story way out of hand. It was the most-read coverage of anything the Michigan Daily had done all year, and numerous media outlets had a field day on the Freedom-of-Speech or racist portrayal ideas. Being so close to both the media and my fellow students, it was interesting to see the clickbait mentality develop into action. Speaking with friends, this, more than the film itself, was the most upsetting component of the situation. They felt that their concerns were being marginalized and mocked by preposterous claims of being “too sensitive and scared” to allow others to watch a movie, which you all know wasn’t the case.

    I think for me it was a good lesson in understanding that it isn’t just what we write, but how we write that can have the largest impact on others.

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