The Black and White of American Sniper [No, This Isn’t About Race]

There were just so many angles from which to approach American Sniper. One of them is, of course, within the context of the Oscars, especially when set in stark contrast with the amount of nominations Selma received [or didn’t receive, as it were]. Another is as the whitewashing of both a man who took great joy in taking lives and the war he fought in. While both are important, the latter more so in my opinion, I will actually be focusing on neither.

As I so often do on this blog, I will instead be writing on and cataloguing a number of reactions to the film [which I haven’t personally seen], some of which you can see below-

If those tweets weren’t enough to weaken your faith in humanity you should also know that they were shared by The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) with the news that they are “working with law enforcement to address violent threats made against #ArabAmericans following #AmericanSniper. Of course, it’s not just your average Arab or Muslim person that was targeted-

Rania Khalek, who wrote the first article I linked to, has found herself the target of racist, sexist, and generally bigoted verbal abuse coming from several corners of the internet since it went online. She, alongside many others who likewise criticized the film, have been called traitors to their country, as well as many other terms I will refrain from reiterating here.

As I skimmed through this hateful garbage I had flashbacks of eerily similar tweets that accompanied the 2012 remake of Red Dawn


-which honestly, still to this day, elicit a visceral reaction in me. I can only imagine how many Arab Americans feel right now in the wake of this film’s release, especially since it’s based on real-life events and not some Hollywood fever dream. The clear difference is that in the former the Wolverines were a bunch of high schoolers turned guerrilla freedom fighters, and in the latter the protagonist and his ilk are United States Marines.

While I was not connected to anyone via social media who subscribed to the kind of sickening blind hatred shared above, I did have at least one friend who responded to Rania’s article after I shared it. Their comment is as follows:


While I agree with her that the tweets chosen were certainly made by extremists the line I want to pull and focus on is this:

“Chris Kyle WAS a hero and saved many lives.”

It’s an assertion I read in a few other places on Facebook, and while it places a great deal of distance between itself and the bigots it stays steadfast in its belief that Kyle was a good man, and more than a good man, a hero. I don’t want to take the time to rehash all of the things he said in his very own memoir, but at the very, very least we should be able to objectively state that he was by no means an angel. Yet for some reason I have found a multitude who refuse to mark him as anything less than some sort of champion of their own personal freedoms.

The one instance, that has come across my radar, of a person who liked the film and didn’t love it is Seth Rogen [who I think is a pretty cool guy]. He received his own fair share of attention on Twitter after he quipped that-

As context, for those who haven’t seen the Tarantino flick:

Given the intense amount of very unwanted attention the tweet garnered him, which resulted in him clarifying his statement the following day:

And then once more, this statement going up yesterday:

It should go without saying that even giving the appearance of comparing a movie about the American armed forces to Nazi propaganda is invitation for those with vastly stronger opinions to come at you. That being said, it appears to be another example that to a number of people this isn’t a grey issue.

To be upfront, I don’t think Chris Kyle was a good guy, and at the very least was a person who adapted a little too enthusiastically to the position he was in. That’s
closer to black on this monochromatic spectrum we’re talking about, but I’m at least willing to concede that he believed every shot he took was saving an innumerable amount of American lives even as it ended an Iraqi one. In fact, in a number of instances I’m sure they did. Sitting here in the dark grey, where I am, it just so happens that I’m blinded by the white, as it were.

As with so many other things, American Sniper has created an us-or-them dichotomy. Either you’re with us and you believe Chris Kyle was a guardian of the United States, unapproachable in his actions, or you hate America. To put it more plainly, either Chris Kyle was a hero or he was a villain. It’s like kids playing on a playground, there is no role for the misunderstood, or for the good guy wrestling with their inner demons.

Maybe with American Sniper and Chris Kyle, like so many other things, we need to meet somewhere in the middle. Especially if that somewhere in the middle lies a little closer to the negative end of things.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Something I did not focus on was this assertion that just because people were not somewhere or directly involved in something they cannot pass judgement. This hews very closely to a post I want to write about criticism in general, and will be discussed then.


6 responses to “The Black and White of American Sniper [No, This Isn’t About Race]

  1. Thank you for taking a step back to asses the situation. Many are all too quick to jump onto one side or another when observation is all that is needed.

  2. I wouldn’t call myself a hugely patriotic person, but I went to see this movie with a couple of friends who wanted to see it. After seeing it, I reflected on how it portrays the “enemy”, and who exactly is seen as the enemy. One of the most hard to watch scenes of the movie depicts harm not to American soldiers but on their own people, on a young boy and his father who are brutally murdered in the streets. It seems obvious to me that the enemy isn’t just a general people group. The “true monsters of the world” are those that torture and maim. For me, that scene marks a dramatic shift in the movie.

    The question about whether or not Chris Kyle is a hero is kind of strange to me. The movie depicts a man who is risking his life to save the lives of others. There are scenes that show him about to take a shot, and it’s clear that he’s torn because he’s human and he has a conscience. In fact, the scene I mentioned above shows him trying to stop the brutal murder of a child (who is not American).

    I think people who ask that question are missing the point. The movie speaks to war and violence and what it does to a person – not just during, but after it occurs. It’s important because it tells a real story not of just a particular soldier, but of countless soldiers who come home with scars that can’t be seen.

    Did these people even watch the same movie that I watched?

    • I’m definitely not going to deny that Kyle’s job was, ultimately, to save the lives of his fellow countrymen, or that he did so with great effectiveness. What ultimately concerns me more is his mindset in approaching this task, as well as his “extracurricular activities”, if there’s a word for that which can be applied to one’s occupation.

      Policemen are there to prevent crimes and protect us yet are still fully capable of brutality and other horrible acts. That doesn’t mean that the ones who perform the latter have their good deeds negated, but I think it does, for me anyway, prevent them from gaining the title of “hero”.

      As mentioned above, I haven’t seen American Sniper, and I don’t know Chris Kyle on any kind of personal level, but having read excerpts from his autobiography I feel I, personally, can’t place him in that category.

  3. I thought it was a good movie, not my favourite of Eastwood’s but competently made and entertaining enough. I saw it more as a showcase of characters with jingoistic, pro-war “patriotic” views rather than the movie itself itself being that way. Disagreeable characters maybe, but interesting. Of course if I was inclined to agree with everything shown I would probably start clapping and call it the best movie ever. Horrible people (like those who tweeted that stuff) liking the movie doesn’t mean the movie is itself horrible.

    Also re: the bit about him being a hero, I don’t think Chris Kyle was a great guy, but you can be a bad person and do heroic actions. Whether or not if you agree with the cause is irrelevant. It’s also interesting to note that Clint Eastwood has been vocally against every US war since Korea, so I don’t think the intention of this movie was to promote war or violence. If anything the scenes that show the effect of war on both Kyle and the veterans he helps during a later segment speak to the opposite.

    When I was watching it I was trying to compare it to To Hell and Back, the 1955 movie about WW2 “war hero” Audie Murphy (who plays himself in the movie, interestingly enough) and that felt like far straighter propaganda, he’s basically rambo. American Sniper didn’t do that, despite the “legend” status Kyle has in the military.

    • I think the fact that Eastwood has been against past wars is really interesting and relates to a topic that we’ve covered time and time again on this blog, which is the relationship between art and artist.

      How people choose to interpret the movie, or any art for that matter, is ultimately up to them, and can oftentimes directly contradict the creator’s intent. Not that I’m saying Eastwood was to blame to begin with, I like his work as a filmmaker.

      Another thing I didn’t really bring up, but of course needs to be discussed, is our definition of the word “hero”. Until we can come to a consensus on what exactly that means I suppose we can’t really determine whether Chris Kyle was one or not.

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