UPAC Cinema’s showing of American Sniper, originally scheduled for Friday, April 10, was postponed after a request by the Muslim Student Association to cancel the showing for that night. UPAC Cinema and the MSA released a joint statement explaining that the film would be postponed to Sunday, April 26, and a panel discussion would be held immediately before the screening.
Sunday’s panel discussion was only open to members of the RPI community. Additionally, photography and releasing names of the panelists were prohibited. Associate Dean of Student Retention and Success moderated the discussion. The panel consisted of two members of the United States Armed Forces, panelists one and two, and two Muslim RPI students, panelists three and four. Attendees were invited to write questions for the panel. Trzepacz introduced the discussion and requested that attendees be respectful and seek to understand first before being understood.
The first panelist, an Army veteran who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, started the discussion by sharing statistics on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He explained that, “This film is a way to relate what happens in war to the general public.” He also asked attendees to remember that, “Military members themselves don’t determine the operations or where they are deployed. That is decided by the Commander in Chief and the Secretary of Defense.”
The second panelist, who had served in the United States Marine Corps prior to college, added, “American Sniper is about the harsh realities of war.” She explained that, in war, soldiers have a different mindset that is completely different from normal life. “There is a division between who you are and who you need to be in war for self-preservation.”
Panelist three attempted to shed light on concerns some Muslims have about the film. “The main problem with American Sniper is it continues the trend of correlating Islam with violence. There is no good Muslim in the movie and that’s not realistic.” He also explained that this problem is not unique to Muslims. “Every couple of decades there’s a new media target. A couple decades ago, it was the Russians.” Panelist four noted that the insurgents in the film don’t look very different from him and his family and hoped that, “viewers don’t paint the situation with a broad brush.”
The panelists were then asked what about this film in particular has sparked so much controversy. Panelists one and two cited American Sniper’s level of visibility and success as possible causes of controversy. “American Sniper is the first movie about these wars that has been widely successful,” panelist one explained. According to panelist two, the film was so successful because, “Chris Kyle was a name we knew. What happened to him catapulted the film into the limelight.”
Trzepacz asked, “Is there a particular moment in the film that the viewers should take note of?” Panelist four noted a scene where Kyle claims to not know what a Quran looks like. “People will draw their conclusions based off of what they know. Putting myself in his shoes, I would also have reservations. What he knew about Muslims probably came from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” Panelist two cited a scene in which Kyle becomes tense when he sees someone watching him and his son at a car repair center as an example of the different mindset a soldier has in combat. “His entire demeanor changed. It’s really difficult to separate pre-war and war mentality.” Panelist one discussed the opening scene in which a child is holding what Kyle believes is an RKG-3 anti-tank grenade. Kyle is torn between shooting the child to save soldiers’ lives and possibly taking an innocent life. “That grenade, while it doesn’t look impressive, can actually kill people inside a tank. He has a split second to make the decision to shoot or not shoot.”
The discussion ended with questions from the audience. Only one question was asked, “Is there a way enemy combatants be portrayed to not offend Muslims?” Panelist four responded, “No, because if that’s what happened, that’s how it should be portrayed.”
Editor’s Note: Names and information regarding panelists and members present at the discussion were withheld at the request of the panelists and the Rensselaer Union