Beyonce’s Loreal ad seemingly whitewashes the talented singer, a Los Angeles woman, on behalf of her city’s entire Asian-Pacific Islander population sued Miley Cyrus after the star apparently mocked those with slanted eyes, and *Pitch Perfect 2 *demonstrates “casual racism”, such as the “Quiet Asian” stereotype, to get laughs. All of these examples show that pop culture represents only certain ideas, which, in these cases, relate to beauty and ethnicities. The recent movie American Sniper exemplifies this same phenomenon but raises the stakes because of its questionable portrayal of the protagonist’s heroism and its controversial representation of Iraqis. Both of these accusations have far-reaching and even violent consequences but colleges should not discount, ignore, or ban American Sniper. The film should instead be seen as a medium to spur dialogue and maybe even promote change.
American Sniper follows Chris Kyle and his life as both a family man and a U.S Navy Seal, whose pinpoint sniping accuracy made him one of America’s most lethal snipers. David French, a writer for The National Review, believes that “Chris Kyle has entered the pantheon of American warriors – along with Alvin C York and Audie Murphy – giving a new generation of young boys a warrior-hero to look up to, to emulate”. French is not the only viewer who thinks Kyle is worth admiring because he is not a Hollywood hero in a fictionalized film but a real man who faced unstaged actions. Kyle, for example, had to make split-second decisions as to whether to shoot a child who may have been carrying a bomb, had to kill and watch his friends be killed, and had to experience simultaneous power and vulnerability in a life-or-death situation, not in a movie theater seat.
But Kyle also has many critics, including those like Lindy West of *The Guardian, *who calls Kyle a “hate-filled killer”. She claims that Kyle’s autobiography is filled with racist ideas and false claims of his own heroism, such as a passage describing the time he reportedly killed two carjackers in Texas: an account that police records have not confirmed. Others share this established writer’s sentiments, including independent journalist Dan Cohen who tweeted to his 16,200 followers that Kyle was a “mass murderer” and *American Sniper *was “a racist whitewash of history”.While both pro- and anti-Kyle perspectives have merit, viewers must make up their own minds about this man: something they can do through exposure to the film. Viewers can only form their own opinions and assess others’ beliefs that Kyle was “warrior-hero”, “a hate-filled killer”, or some area between this black-and-white, evil-and-good binary by watching *American Sniper*. This emotional and educational dialogue allows viewers both to explore these nuances and to discuss their individual reactions to the same experience: watching *American Sniper*.
The same idea applies to the film’s questionable portrayal of Iraqis. In the autobiography that inspired the film, Kyle described.) killing as “fun” and something that he “loved”: in a quotation not seen in this excerpt, he also wrote.) that everyone he killed was, in fact, a “bad guy”.“I hate the damn savages,” he [wrote](http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/06/real-american-sniper-hate-filled-killer-why-patriots-calling-hero-chris-kyle).). “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis”. To viewers, especially those who see Chris Kyle as a hero and a role model, this movie seems to support this idea that “Iraqis” are “bad guy[s]” and “savages” and that every Iraqi Kyle killed was a terrorist. Since the film’s release, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) — the largest Arab civil rights organization in the U.S — [has received hundreds of hate messages](http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jan/24/american-sniper-anti-muslim-threats-skyrocket) targeting Arab and Muslim ethnic groups, including one tweet that [reads](http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/06/real-american-sniper-hate-filled-killer-why-patriots-calling-hero-chris-kyle).), “Great fucking movie and now I really want to kill some fucking ragheads”. Other movie-goers shared similar messages regarding the “vermin scum intent on destroying us” from their own Twitter accounts. The controversy has also affected college campuses. College students have petitioned against campus screenings to prevent their peers from accessing and internalizing to this harmful perspective. For example, both the Michigan Muslim Students’ Association at the University of Michigan at Dearborn and the Muslim Students Association at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York [were successful](http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2015/0414/Colleges-wrestle-with-screening-American-Sniper) in cancelling scheduled screenings. In Michigan, *Paddington* replaced *American Sniper *as the [feature film](http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/04/19/why-are-colleges-cancelling-american-sniper.html).
This quest for ubiquitous political correctness and a safe environment compromises society’s ability to have dialogue about the film and the good versus evil binaries it raises. Obviously, no movie, magazine, or any other piece of pop culture should exacerbate racial stereotypes, such as the idea that all Iraqis are “bad guys” and “savages”. And yet, according to viewer reactions, American Sniper does not clearly do so. After all, some moviegoers see it not as deliberate propaganda but as a tale of an ordinary man’s difficult and emotionally-taxing situations, In this way, the film differs from a hypothetical pro-Nazi movie, which modern viewers with a wide range of perspectives would universally condemn. Maybe, in the next fifty years, all viewers will also reach the same clear-cut consensus on Chris Kyle. But, most likely, he will never be absolutely accepted or ostracized and will, thus, remain a topic of conversation from which viewers should not shy away. Instead, they should be exposed to American Sniper, and other similarly controversial works, so that they can embrace these opportunities for dialogue, intelligently discuss their own reactions to and experiences with disputable ideas, and, in the process, teach others a lesson or two.
As Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post acutely observed, “[this] kerfuffle is both a symptom of and a distraction from larger questions about campus climates and students’ sense of themselves and their environments”. This sense of understanding can only come from exposure to debatable issues and a willingness to talk and to listen open-mindedly about them.
“I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion, and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with…the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous, focus-grouped platitudes and cant” Bill Maher proclaimed in a “Please Stop Apologizing” article for The New York Times, American Sniper can further harmful ideologies but should not go unwatched. Rather, the film, with all of its flaws, should be seen as a catalyst for colorful, emotional, and spontaneous dialogue, at Michigan, at RPI, and at Stanford. Watching the movie can be a learning experience so that viewers understand that support for soldiers does not equate to support of stereotypes the movie further and that exposure to certain standards and ideas– such as the ones seen in Beyonce’s ad, Miley Cyrus’s actions, and Pitch Perfect 2’s humor–is the first step in dismantling them. .