While it's good to know that the University of Michigan will be screening American Sniper on campus tonight after all, it still boggles the mind that campus officials were cowardly enough to cancel it in the first place.
The Clint Eastwood-directed American Sniper was not only a box-office smash, earning more than $400 million, but it garnered six Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Bradley Cooper as the murdered Navy SEAL whose sharpshooting skills saved countless lives among American troops during the recent Iraq war.
Nonetheless, all a bunch of Muslim students at Michigan had to do was denounce the movie as "racist" and declare themselves feeling "unsafe" for the university to yank it from the screen.
The petition read like an Onion parody:
Anti-Muslim and anti-MENA hate crimes are growing increasingly common. These incidents create an unsafe space that does not allow for positive dialogue and triggers U of M students. Examples like the recent Chapel Hill shooting, which took the lives of three Arab American Muslim students, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, contribute to this lack of safety and space for Muslim and/or MENA students. Deah’s sister, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, has publicly stated how American Sniper has contributed to a culture of Islamophobia in America. Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome.
The movie American Sniper not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer. Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi civilians. Middle Eastern characters in the film are not lent an ounce of humanity and watching this movie is provocative and unsafe to MENA and Muslim students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world values their lives. What we instead should offer is compassion and respect towards others.
And so did the statement that campus officials posted on the university's Facebook page on April 8:
Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie…. We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students and staff alike. We in the Center for Campus Involvement and the UMix Late Night program did not intend to exclude any students or communities on campus through showing this film. Nevertheless, as we know, intent and impact can be very different things. While our intent was to show a film, the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcome at our program.… We will take time to deeper understand and screen for content that can negatively stereotype a group.
And the administration's selection of the film it planned to substitute–Paddington, a children's film about a baby bear–had its own Onion-esque aspect.
(Just for the record, those three Muslim students murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C., were actually shot to death over a parking dispute, not over their ethnicity or religion, according to all reports.)
Fortunately, about 600 Michigan students pushed back, signing a petition of their own authored by law student Rachel Jankowski:
The movie American Sniper is not about a racist mass murderer or a criminal. It is about a decorated American war hero who served his country valiantly. While we may disagree about the motives and politics of the Iraq War, the movie shows the sacrifice that Chris Kyle made, like so many of his fellow servicemen and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country, including numerous University of Michigan alumni. If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix purports to provide. As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects.
And Michigan's head football coach, Jim Harbaugh, announced that his team would be watching American Sniper whether university officials liked it or not. Harbaugh tweeted: "Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!"
Nonetheless, the university continued to drag its feet, first announcing that it would permit a campus screening of American Sniper–but at a different location than originally planned–and then, finally agreeing on April 9 to allow the film to be shown at its original venue.
I hope that Wolverines turn out en masse for tonight's screening. But it was a shameful day that Michigan allowed itself to be cowed into censorship–if only temporarily–by a small group of students playing the victimology card.