UMix won't screen film in wake of complaints

By Lara Moehlman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 7, 2015

The Center for Campus Involvement announced Tuesday afternoon they would cancel a planned showing of “American Sniper” at UMix following a student petition over the depiction of certain communities in the film.

In a statement posted on Facebook by CCI, which runs UMix, the organization said the choice was made in response to concerns raised by students about the film in the petition.

“Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie,” the statement read. “We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students.”

LSA sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui started the petition Tuesday morning after discovering that UMix, a University program dedicated to providing students with alcohol-free events on Friday nights, would be showing the 2014 war drama “American Sniper” this Friday.

Mekkaoui, who is a a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Middle Eastern and Arab Network on campus, said she found the choice of film disconcerting because of its depictions of the Iraq War and residents of the Middle Eastern and North African region.

The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy Seal who served in Iraq and has the most confirmed kills as a sniper in U.S. military history.

“As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,” Mekkaoui said.

She added that she felt the film was released at a time when negative attitudes toward Middle Eastern and Northern African groups were at a peak.

“It was released at a time when these anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Middle Eastern (and) North African hate crimes were already skyrocketing and this movie only contributed to that,” he said.

In response to the CCI’s announcement on Facebook Tuesday morning that it would screen the film during UMix, Mekkaoui sent CCI a personal letter of concern at 11 a.m.

After posting the letter on her Facebook page and receiving positive feedback, Mekkaoui then drafted a second letter expressing similar concerns to her personal letter that was circulated to various communities on campus.

Students had the opportunity to edit the content of the letter and sign it on a Google document before Mekkaoui sent the collective letter to CCI at 1:00 p.m. It garnered roughly 200 signatures from students in the Muslim Students Association as well as other students who didn’t self-identify with the Middle Eastern, North African or Muslim communities, but wanted to contribute their signatures in solidarity

In the final version of the letter, students voiced several concerns over the film’s portrayal of Arabs and the Middle East and North Africa regions.

“Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome,” the letter read. “The movie ‘American Sniper’ not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.”

In their statement, CCI said while their intent was not to make certain communities uncomfortable, they understood the impact of the film and would take more time to screen for content in the future.

“We in the Center for Campus Involvement and the UMix Late Night program did not intend to exclude any students or communities on campus through showing this film,” they wrote. “Nevertheless, as we know, intent and impact can be very different things.”

Mekkaoui said she appreciated CCI’s quick response to student concerns.

“I just want to say thank you to the Center for Campus Involvement for listening to student feedback, and for taking quick action to make sure (that) once they found that they had done something that made students on campus feel uncomfortable, they took immediate action to change that,” she said.