Column: ‘American Sniper’ is not the movie this country needs
The recently released film whitewashes many of the main issues in the Iraq war, making it a problematic telling of this important story.
Jan. 27, 2015
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
Clint Eastwood's “American Sniper” has been an incredible success with moviegoers around the country. BBC News reported the movie exceeded box office expectations by raking in around $90 million over its opening weekend.
The movie has earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper. The movie recounts the story of Chris Kyle, a sniper in the Iraq War from 2003 to 2009, who executed 160 confirmed killings during his four tours of duty. An unstable Iraq War veteran killed Kyle at a shooting range in his hometown in Texas in February 2013.
Despite the enormous success, the movie has sparked debate and outrage about how it portrays Kyle and the Iraq War. This film has vital errors and points that were unaddressed, which is disappointing for a movie on this topic. It had a chance to explain the motives and realities behind the often-enigmatic Iraq War — a chance that the movie unapologetically abandoned.
The principal issue with “American Sniper” is that it attempted to explain the Iraq War in black-and-white terms, whereas the conflict has many sides that need to be taken into account. According to Vox, the film claims the war was a response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. However, this is an outright falsity. The Iraq War, instead, was of George W. Bush’s choosing.
Foreign Affairs cites the reasons the U.S. went to war was to remove Saddam Hussein as leader and establish a democracy. The truth is shrouded in the film to give better credentials to why the U.S. was fighting in the first place.
This is not the only reality the film smudges. “American Sniper” seems to stretch the truth regarding Chris Kyle’s personality. It seems to forget that Kyle had a history of claiming events that didn’t really happen, including how he attested to killing two carjackers in Texas and shooting looters in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, both of which did not take place, according to BBC News. The film also tones down Kyle’s more extreme opinions about Iraqis. He described Iraqis as “savages” in his book, and recounted that he liked killing them and regretted not killing more. The film, on the other hand, portrays Kyle as deeply troubled over the amount of people he killed.
Perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of the film is how it portrayed Iraqis in the Iraq War. As Vox states, they were primarily all “terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.” The film does not explain the motives or ideals or even the humanity behind any character of Iraqi origin. They are there as the enemy and nothing more.
This makes it easier for the audience to sympathize with the Americans and their struggles that they had to deal with during the war. It completely whitewashes the fear of Iraqi citizens and the pain that came with the deaths of 15,060 civilians(https://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/numbers/2011/). Furthermore, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee stated that there has been an increase in the amount of threats on Muslims and Arabs, especially on social media sites, following the film's release. This film has further elevated animosity towards this subset of citizens. This is particularly concerning due to the relationship the U.S. already has with people of Muslim and Arab origin.
Although addressing the Iraq War is important, “American Sniper” is not the movie the U.S. needs. Through its inaccurate portrayal of the main subject, the motives behind the war and Iraq as a nation, it has elevated tensions and incorrect assumptions related to this topic. It celebrates violence and war while diminishing the humanity of a whole population. The U.S. needs a film that tells the whole story of the Iraq War, but that might be a long way coming.