The 2015 biopic “Selma” set out to recall a nonviolent march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that was met with violent opposition. The march was a factor leading up to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Yet it is Clint Eastwood’s film “American Sniper” that has Americans marching into the nation’s movie theaters.
After the last few months of our nation’s uproar over alleged police brutality against unarmed black men, I was under the impression that America was beginning to recognize problems with the continuing racist culture.
Like a constantly moving spotlight, infuriated citizens brought focus to each person of color who died at the hands of white law enforcement. Awareness was rising with hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe being used to unite Americans who saw 2014 as a radically troubled year.
For this reason, Selma seemed to be the perfect opportunity for our nation to acknowledge that our history is far from polished, yet an act of unity can bring about incredible change.
The profit margins between “Selma” and “American Sniper” however, show something different.
Earning over $258 million more than Selma as of Feb. 16, 2015, Eastwood’s war hero film based on the story of American SEAL Chris Kyle threatens to erase the recent progress we have made against this nation’s racism.
“American Sniper” capitalizes on celebrating our fire power to decimate anyone targeted by our armed forces, always in the name of “liberty” and “freedom.”
While Selma revisits the story of MLK’s nonviolent resistance movement that pressured whites to recognize blacks as equal, “American Sniper” casts brown-skinned Iraqis into the generalized group of terrorists which turns American soldiers into heroes for murdering.
Meanwhile, both Eastwood and Ana DeVernay, director of “Selma”, have been criticized for lack of accuracy. These political decisions behind both director’s choices however, reflect the historical reputation of Hollywood not prioritizing accuracy in film.
What cannot be attributed to Hollywood’s focus on profit at the expense of historical fact are the voluntary actions of American viewers.
As “American Sniper” earns more than $300 million within a month after its release, it appears that moviegoers prefer a film that highlights Islamophobic “victories”, instead of laying out the facts and flaws of our history.
The danger of a movie like “American Sniper” is the simplistic viewpoint it offers of American involvement in Iraq, or any international conflict.
Eastwood’s film portrays Chris Kyle as a respected Navy SEAL sniper, prompting viewers to applaud his actions without question, as commendable. Multiple scenes place bomb-strapped Iraqis into Kyle’s sight, each new murder adding to his “impressive” record of kills.
This film contributes to the mindset that brown-skinned Islamic men are all terrorists capable of repeating 9/11. This is a dangerously appealing propaganda, not art.
Threats against Muslims and Arabs have soared following the release of American Sniper, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
“American Sniper” viewers have taken to social media to express islamophobic viewpoints after watching American Sniper.
“Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us,” was one of many hate-filled comments offered on Twitter.
While some may argue that an individual’s movie choice is not a political action, the implications are undeniable.
In order to combat this nation’s system of racism, Americans need to reject media that perpetuate this ingrained mentality.
As a nation, we must recognize that movies do affect our attitudes on social issues.
Choosing to watch a film about a march instead of a so called war hero, will not erase racism overnight.
To recognize that “American Sniper” unfairly stereotypes a foreign nation as evil is to take a stance against racism.
To recognize that “Selma” illustrates a struggle in our past, but sheds light on a lesson that is valid today, is to push back against racism.
To have the right of choice that other nations do not, is to be American. This is a call to action to choose wisely and actively think responsibly.