by Julian Spivey
Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” a movie based on the life of U.S. military sniper Chris Kyle, obliterated January box office records this past weekend when it earned $90 million in its first weekend in theaters. The film has proven to be a massive hit among American audiences and an award season contender with six Academy Award nominations, including best picture. However, it also has brought along its share of controversy.
It’s the controversy that mostly interests me, despite the fact that I haven’t seen “American Sniper” nor do I have any plans to do so.
Long before I started to read about controversy surrounding this film something didn’t sit right with me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I’ve been a fan of Clint Eastwood’s directorial work multiple times before, even though I never had any interest in this one as violent movies don’t really interest me; meaning many modern war movies aren’t on my viewing list. It wasn’t the war movie aspect that sort of turned me off about “American Sniper,” as I didn’t have similar thoughts about last year’s “Lone Survivor,” based on the true story of soldier Marcus Luttrell. For some reason I started to view this film as almost conservative propaganda. It was probably because the trailer aired on television literally every time anything I watched went to commercial. That’s great promotion by Warner Bros., but every time I saw the trailer something inside me couldn’t help but dislike it.
It was probably because I knew the reaction it would get from ‘Murica type jingoists. And, boy did it ever get a reaction.
I started to feel even worse about “American Sniper” when I started reading some of the articles recently about the reasons why it’s truly controversial and when I saw the box office numbers from this weekend compared to those for another film that’s recently been embroiled in controversy, Ana DuVernay’s “Selma.”
To try to maintain some sort of order on my opinions here I’m going to split this piece into three sections.
A. Audience Reaction
Almost any time there’s something in pop culture that can be deemed pro-America, and a military movie based on a true story is going to be considered just that, the jingoists come out of the woodwork in droves. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of being American; I certainly am, but when it becomes offensive to other cultures and people (as it so often does) it quickly gets out of hand. When you have imbeciles hopped up on their “America Fuck Yeah!” high after watching a movie such as “American Sniper” and they go to social media and spout off such hateful, pro-“American Sniper” posts as these it really makes you wonder if it isn’t all some kind of conservative, pro-American propaganda. It probably isn’t even intended this way, but ignorant audiences certainly take it that way. I wonder what Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper think about comments such as these. If the film makes $90 million in its first three days do they even care?
The jingoistic and racist pro-American sentiments espoused by many of the audience members certainly turns me off to this movie, but so does the other stupidities shown by many of the filmgoers. For instance, if you go to Twitter right now and try to type ‘American Sniper’ into the search bar the first thing that pops up is actually ‘American Snipper,’ which unless there is an even more popular movie about an American doctor fighting for his freedom to perform circumcisions means that a good portion, perhaps even majority of the people watching this film and raving about it online can’t even correctly spell the easy, six letter word ‘sniper.’ I know I run the risk of seeming high-and-mighty or even elitist with this sentiment, but it just goes to show me how dumb these filmgoers truly are – although to be fair calling Middle Easterners “ragheads” pretty much sealed that fate.
Now, I feel the need for the caveat that I know not everybody who watched “American Sniper” or wants to watch it is a jingoist, racist or truly horrible human being. I know that some people just want to watch a good movie, and the Academy Award nominations along with the 74 percent approval rating from the consensus of film critics on Rotten Tomatoes goes a long way in proving that “American Sniper” is probably a well-made film, but the response online to it has been mostly offensive in my view.
B. Making a Hero Out of Chris Kyle
My biggest quarrel with “American Sniper” and my opinion on it that will probably cause the most controversy or offense is that it goes a long way in making a hero out of somebody who might shouldn’t be considered one.
I’ll go ahead and strap on my bullet proof vest and helmet now.
Yes, I admitted that I didn’t see this film nor have any interest in seeing it, but from reading reviews, talking to people who have and reading those previously mentioned social media posts I can surmise that “American Sniper” makes Chris Kyle, known as the military’s most proficient sniper ever with an estimated 250-plus kills, out to be the “Greatest American Hero.” I understand that many of you believe this and that’s why this movie has proven to be record-breaking popular. But, after reading about some of the controversy online and viewing some of the late Kyle’s own words from his memoir that shares (and inspired) the same name as the film I can’t help but think that he might not have been a “hero,” despite the fact that he saved lives in military action. And, to make him out as a great man or hero without showing some of his hideous faults is a major, if not dangerous (especially if it incites some to want to harm Muslims as the tweets from the previous section imply), detriment to the film’s viewers.
Kyle said in his memoir “I hate the damn savages.” and “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He also described killing as “fun” and something that he “loved.”
These aren’t the words of somebody just doing his patriotic duty, but rather words used by a sociopath who simply likes the thrill of killing people. There have been literally thousands of American war heroes throughout our country’s great history and I suspect there will continue to be so, but those heroes didn’t kill because they “loved” it or it was “fun” – they killed because they had to do so to survive and for the betterment of their country.
I don’t care how you feel about American soldiers or the war in Iraq, if you don’t take issue with Kyle’s own admission of sociopathic behavior then you’re just as messed up as he was. That isn’t what America is all about.
Maybe even more sociopathic than his admission of having “fun” while killing combatants in war is the fact that he bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, even though the truthfulness of that statement is unconfirmed and was likely the delusional ramblings of an uncontrollable and idiotic braggart.
The fact that “American Sniper” makes this man out to be a hero after admitting to taking pleasure in killing people – no matter if they were war combatants or New Orleans looters – is reason enough to doubt its credibility and view it as a disgrace, even if it includes beautiful cinematography and an Oscar-nominated performance from Cooper.
You can consider Kyle an American hero if you want, but my heroes have a little more sympathy for the lives of others than he obviously did.
C. “American Sniper” vs. “Selma”
As previously mentioned “American Sniper” made $90 million this weekend in its first weekend in theaters. “Selma,” a film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights struggles in Alabama during the ‘60s, made merely $8 million and came in fifth in the box office in just its second week in theaters. “Selma” only grossed $11.3 million in its first weekend.
“American Sniper” out-grossing “Selma” by more than $80 million over the weekend tells you everything you need to know about this country. It tells you about its priorities. It tells you about its interests. It tells you about its lack of caring about important historical figures. It tells you its problem with racial issues 50 years after the events of Selma. It tells you its fascination with guns and killing and perceived good guys and bad guys. It tells you its “rah rah America” attitudes.
Both of these movies are nominated for best picture at next month’s Oscars, but Americans have proven they’re only majorly interested in one of them and on the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. Day today it feels like they’ve chosen the wrong film and that seems very wrong.
Much like “American Sniper” I haven’t seen “Selma.” I’m actually hoping to see it today on the holiday that celebrates the life of its main character. But, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that it’s more relevant and important today for American filmgoers to see than “American Sniper” and knowing the things I know about both Chris Kyle and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it’s Dr. King who is the unequivocal hero of the two. And, yet the majority of you seem to rather watch Kyle kill Iraqis in a war that much of America was torn about than Dr. King fight for something that’s truly important.
The God’s honest truth is Eastwood could’ve filmed an American flag flapping in the wind for two hours and it would’ve drawn more than the $8 million this weekend that “Selma” did. Yes, that tells me everything about this country today and I don’t think it’s what Dr. King dreamed of on that day in 1963.