'American Sniper' Shut Down

Film called off at U of Maryland. Unlike debate at Michigan, the senior administration declines to step in.

April 24, 2015

A student organization at the University of Maryland at College Park has called off a screening of American Sniper after students complained that the film fuels "anti-Arab and anti-Islamic sentiments" and "helps to proliferate the marginalization of multiple groups and communities."

The decision came as several colleges continue to face similar protests over screenings of the film. At the University of Michigan, such protests led to an initial decision to cancel a showing there. But at Michigan, the senior administration intervened, citing principles of free speech, and the film was screened.

That's not going to be the case at Maryland.

American Sniper was scheduled to be shown in early May at a screening organized by Maryland's Student Entertainment Events, a student group that arranges for films, comedians and musicians to come to campus. After receiving a petition from the members of the university's Muslim Student Association and meeting with concerned students, the group decided to put off the screening. The student group called the decision a postponement but didn't reschedule the event and indicated the film would not be shown this semester.

"SEE is choosing to explore the proactive measures of working with others during the coming months to possibly create an event where students can engage in constructive and moderated dialogues about the controversial topics proposed in the film," Student Entertainment Events said in a statement Thursday. "SEE supports freedom of expression and hopes to create space for the airing of opposing viewpoints and differing perceptions."

American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL frequently referred to as the deadliest sniper in U.S. history. The author of a best-selling memoir, Kyle was revered by many as a hero and despised by others as a racist. The film based on his memoir was similarly polarizing. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, American Sniper was a box office hit and earned several Academy Award nominations. But some critics decried it as dangerous propaganda.

"American Sniper only perpetuates the spread of Islamophobia and is offensive to many Muslims around the world for good reason," Maryland's Muslim Student Association wrote in its petition. "This movie dehumanizes Muslim individuals, promotes the idea of senseless mass murder and portrays negative and inaccurate stereotypes. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians suffered greatly in the Iraq war; innocent people were deposed from their homes, traumatized by war, and lost their spouse, parents and children. This movie serves to do nothing but make a mockery out of such immense pain."

Earlier this month, the University of Michigan's Center for Campus Involvement temporarily canceled a screening of American Sniper after more than 200 students signed a letter saying that the movie perpetuates “negative and misleading stereotypes” and creates an unsafe environment for Middle Eastern, North African and Muslim students. The film was to be replaced with a screening of Paddington, a family movie based on the popular series of British children’s books about a talking bear with a love of marmalade.

The university later reversed its decision, with administrators saying "it was a mistake" to cancel the showing. 

A petition created by Muslim students at George Mason University this week urges the university to cancel a planned screening of American Sniper there, as well. Similar efforts have taken place at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Missouri at Columbia and the University of Mississippi. At Eastern Michigan University, four students were arrested after climbing on stage during a campus screening to protest the film.

In a statement Thursday, the University of Maryland said it will not intervene in what it described as a "student-led decision."

"SEE is a student-run organization comprised of undergraduate students who work alongside advisers in the creation, promotion and operation of campus events," the university stated. "The university is not involved in the decision-making process to determine which films are brought to campus."


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