Reaction mixed ahead of UM showing of 'American Sniper'

Derek Draplin
The Detroit News

The debate over showing "American Sniper" on the University of Michigan campus didn't die down ahead of the controversial movie's airing Friday night.

A national firestorm erupted late this week after the Center for Campus Involvement canceled showing the movie after a petition was circulated saying the film perpetuates "negative and misleading stereotypes."

"The University should be a place where you can get out of your comfort zone and engage in mature dialogue," said Tony Saucedo, a freshman from Dearborn. "It'd be better for people to engage in debate rather than complain about an event that's not even mandatory to attend."

Omar Mahmood, a junior from West Bloomfield who is a Muslim, had qualms about the movie but still believed it should be shown.

"I resent that the movie is not told from an Iraqi victim's perspective ... I have so far refused to watch 'American Sniper' because of these concerns of mine," he said. "I think that to stop the movie being screened on campus is not" right in regards to free expression.

"To argue for its censorship on the basis that it will 'trigger' students on campus is disrespectful to people who are truly hurt by war, and it hurts an honest academic environment."

Alisa Aliaj, a junior from Sterling Heights said: "The problem I have … it's obviously political but people shouldn't be surprised how (Chris Kyle) was as a person. No one comes home from war the same way they left."

"American Sniper" tells the story of Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, who the film's promoters call "the most lethal sniper in U.S. history." Kyle, a Navy SEAL, served four tours of duty in Iraq.

More than 100 people attended the showing of "American Sniper."

"The movie 'American Sniper' not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim ... rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer," said the original petition opposing its showing. It was started by student Lamees Mekkaoui. "Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi citizens."

The petition garnered over 270 signatures, but has since been deleted.

Mekkaoui said her supporters were scheduled to hold an unofficial community gathering after the movie which was not connected to the group showing the movie.

But by Wednesday morning a counter petition was circulated by the conservative campus group, Young Americans for Freedom, asking the university to reinstate the movie. By Wednesday night, its petition had nearly 600 signatures.

"While we may disagree about the motives and politics of the Iraq War, the movie shows the sacrifice that Chris Kyle made, like so many of his fellow servicemen and women who put themselves in harm's way to protect our country, including numerous University of Michigan alumni," the petition, created by law student Rachel Jankowski, said.

"If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UM purports to provide."

A university Twitter account stated after the cancellation of the movie that the children's film "Paddington" would be shown instead. Six people were watching "Paddington."

Following this petition and national media coverage, the Center for Campus Involvement announced on Twitter "American Sniper" would be viewed elsewhere.

"We're planning to show American Sniper in a separate forum that provides an appropriate space for dialogue & reflection. More info to come," the tweet said.

Then, on Wednesday night, head football coach Jim Harbaugh chimed in.

"Michigan Football will watch 'American Sniper'! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!" he said.

Several hours later, in an official statement, E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life, said it was a "mistake" to cancel the movie and reinstated the viewing to its original time Friday night.

"The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters," Harper said. "The movie will be shown at the originally scheduled time and location."