The highest-grossing film released this year includes a thrilling plotline, a surplus of heart-in-your-throat action scenes, and a captivating modern-day war hero who is as compassionate as he is dangerous. However, the film has spurred outcries which claim that the film does not fairly portray the cultural compatibility between Muslims and Americans.
American Sniper has been a topic of debate on national talk shows, news websites, and social media forums throughout the world. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, depicts the story of Chris Kyle, a United States Navy Seal known for the highest-recorded kill count in U.S. military history. But its all-American depiction on screen has drawn heavy questioning of the film’s political fairness.
Critics of the movie wonder: Was it designed to depict Muslims as savage people? Is the film modern-day war propaganda? These are the types of questions that people are struggling to find the answers to.
The criticism surrounding the film does not question its artistic merit, as it was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture. Instead, the criticism responds to the political message the film was trying to convey to its audience. Critical responses from both political wings have been visible in social media. Some tweeters have responded with extremely antagonistic reactions toward Muslims, including slurs and hate speech. On the other hand, Real Time television show host Bill Maher questioned the character of the real Chris Kyle by calling him a “psychopath patriot.”
Many reactions to the film by Principia College students reflect these differing points of view. These conversations include discussing whether Muslims were portrayed in a negative light, as well as the overall message of the film.
“The film wasn’t anti-Muslim, but I definitely think it gave a skewed view of war and how it made him a hero for killing people,” said senior Kyla Pelletier, just after watching the film. “A lot of people in America are probably scared of the Middle East, and I don’t think that movie gave them a better view of the Middle East or eased any of those fears.”
When asked whether the movie portrayed the Iraqi people fairly, junior Charlie Petch stated, “I think it did not. There was no showing of the daily life of the Iraqi people and I thought [the perspective of the film] was totally one-sided.”
The general consensus among the Principia community was that the movie was made from the sole perspective of an American, and disregarded the story of the Iraqi people.
Freshman Connor Fiddler added a different perspective to the debate by saying, “I really found it to be a story of one soldier’s point of view of the war. There wasn’t anything that I found offensive because, again, you have to look at it as a soldier who is fighting a…group of people who are murdering civilians. I think it is important to understand that it was a war, and my impression of the movie made me realize how gruesome war can be and how it is not so black-and-white.”
Students showed the greatest variety of opinions on the topic of the institutional purpose and message of the film.
“I think the overarching goal was to really show the intensity of the war and the effect of one soldier on a nation,” said freshman Brett Huntley. “He had an impact on his whole community [in Texas].”
Fiddler did not believe the filmmaker was trying to put across any message at all. “I think the movie was trying to tell the story of a war through the point of view of a soldier who lived it through extraordinary circumstances.”
There is little denial among the Principia community that the issues American Sniper presents to the public have meaning and need to be dealt with by the community at large.
“The movie is so interesting because it is something that the majority of us have lived through,” said Pelletier. “We can look back on events like World War II and say all these horrible tragedies happened, but this is something that we grew up living through, like the terrorist attacks in 2001, and so it is more relevant to our lives.”
“On my way back to Principia [from winter break], I sat by a soldier on a plane that just returned from overseas,” explained junior Georgia Mae Hurley. “I knocked my foot against my seat and it made a loud noise. He woke up frantically and grabbed the seat next to him. He looked embarrassed and said, ‘Thank you for being patient with me, I’m still trying to adjust.’ It startled me at first, but honestly, after seeing American Sniper, I realized that the issues on the screen were more than just a movie. While the debates over American Sniper might never end, I hope that we can put aside our opinions and see that there are thousands of Chris Kyles around us, and they need us to support them.”