Breaking box office records, director Clint Eastwood’s newest film, “American Sniper,” raked in $107 million in its wide release in theaters over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend, the biggest-ever January weekend film opening. A week earlier, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rewarded the film with six Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture and best actor. It even moved Vice President Joe Biden, who reportedly teared up while watching it.
“American Sniper” exemplifies a sense of macho, white male braggadocio that is symbolic of all that is wrong with the right-wing, pro-war, pro-gun, bully culture of the United States. Should we really be surprised that both the American public and the Academy are rewarding a film about a man who, judging by his own words, appeared to be a psychotic mass murderer?
Eastwood’s film, starring Bradley Cooper, is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, considered the most lethal sniper to have served in the U.S. war in Iraq. Kyle served four tours of duty and was heavily decorated for his service. He is thought to have killed 255 Iraqis, with 160 of them being confirmed kills. His book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” co-written with Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen, was published in 2012 and shot to the top of the best-seller lists, remaining there for months. In early 2013, Kyle was shot and killed in Texas by another U.S. soldier, who is currently awaiting trial.
In a debate that I moderated Tuesday between Kyle’s co-author DeFelice and independent journalist and blogger Rania Khalek on “Uprising,” DeFelice said the movie was true to the book, and that the film crew “did a remarkable job.” But Khalek, who has been one of social media’s foremost critics of the film, has called it “brilliant propaganda that erases U.S. crimes.”