Posted by on January 23, 2015 in Blog

By Maha Elsamahi
Winter Intern, 2015

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper about former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, recently, had one of the largest January weekend box office open in recent history.  The star-studded cast brought to life Kyle’s claims to have been one of the deadliest snipers in American History. Despite its apparent popularity with moviegoers, the movie has garnered some criticism over the whitewashed portrayal of its protagonist and the 2003 Iraq war. Still, others praised its sensitive portrayal of a war weary and troubled soldier struggling to adjust to life after the intensity of war.

One thing is for sure, however, and that is American Sniper continues in the footsteps of the widely-praised Homeland and Argo and the Hollywood tradition of one-note, dehumanized portrayals of Arabs and Muslims. Providing a sanitized image of the movie’s protagonist Chris Kyle, American Sniper is much less generous to its stock, background Iraqi characters portraying them as overwhelmingly evil and murderous. Not even children escape this simplistic portrayal and are, at several moments throughout, depicted with weapons in their hands, intending to kill American soldiers. Scenes such as these do little to highlight the extent of the impact of war on children, and the troubling rise of child soldiers in the countries of  Syria and Iraq.  Combined with the fact the character of Chris Kyle repeatedly refers to Iraqis in the movie as “savages”, American Sniper’s depiction of its Arab and Muslim characters does little to challenge existing notions about them and does more harm by not challenging the narrative that the war in Iraq was a battle between the forces of good and evil.

As the media covers the critics’ claims that the movie advocates a pro-war stance, much less attention has been paid to the stream of racist, Islamophobic social media posts that the film has inspired.  In a climate where Arabs and Muslims around the world find themselves having to constantly reassert their humanity and outrage at violence claimed to be done in the name of their religion, films like American Sniper do little to counter the prejudice against Muslims and Arabs and often acts to confirm the biases of its viewers. In selling it as the story of one man and his personal struggles, the film skips over context, instead portraying the Iraq war as a direct response to September 11th. This oversimplification robs the viewers and the public of an opportunity to discuss the real implications of the war on daily American life and U.S. - Arab relations.