According to an Associated Press story, the University of Michigan’s Center for Campus Involvement has canceled an upcoming screening of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper after sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui started a petition against the screening. Mekkaoui says she identifies as Arab and Middle Eastern and believes the film “condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda.”
The local chapter of conservative campus group Young Americans for Freedom has already started a petition demanding that the school reverse the decision, but there’s yet to be a parallel free-speech protest from self-identified liberal groups. Haven’t generations of Americans sent their children to colleges and universities so they can be exposed to a wide range of ideas? Sure, there are a few echo-chamber campuses like (liberal) Bennington and (religious) Liberty University where controversial ideas are frowned upon, but most schools tout themselves as havens from suppression of controversial ideas.
American Sniper is a complex movie that’s open to different interpretations. Chris Kyle was a complicated guy and both Bradley Cooper’s portrayal and Clint Eastwood’s direction paint a portrait of him that’s far more nuanced than the one promoted by promoters (and detractors) of this movie. Movies don’t gross over $340 million without striking a deep chord with people from all walks of life.
There’s obviously a difference between hate speech and provocative ideas that make some people uncomfortable. American Sniper celebrates a legendary Navy SEAL but still asks a lot of questions about wars and the people we ask to fight them. In an era when the overwhelming majority of Americans have no personal connections to the military, college campuses are full of kids who might learn something from Clint and Bradley.