University plans to show both 'American Sniper' and 'Paddington' on Friday

By Emma Kinery, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 8, 2015

After a letter circulated by concerned students caused the University to cancel a showing of the film “American Sniper,” the Center for Campus Involvement will still show the film at its regularly scheduled UMix event Friday night, according to a statement by E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life.

Earlier today, CCI announced the organization would show the film at a separate time, and the film “Paddington” would replace the film’s slot at UMix. However, according to Harper, the movie will be shown at the originally scheduled location at UMix, along with the alternative “Paddington” movie. “Paddington” will be screened at another location on campus.

“It was a mistake to cancel the showing of the movie "American Sniper” on campus as part of a social event for students,” she said. “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.”

“We recognize, however, that some students are uncomfortable with the content of the movie, and appreciate that concern,” she added.

The decision follows the creation of a student-generated petition Wednesday that called for the University to reverse its previous move to cancel the showing.

Before Harper’s statement, CCI announced plans to reschedule the showing of “American Sniper” at the University in on its Facebook page Wednesday.

“The Center for Campus Involvement understands that there are many perspectives regarding the film American Sniper,” the statement read. “...We are planning to screen American Sniper separately from the upcoming UMix event, in a forum that provides an appropriate space for dialogue and reflection.”

Tuesday morning, after discovering UMix — a University-sponsored social event held most Friday nights — was planning to show the film “American Sniper,” LSA sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui wrote to the Center for Campus Involvement regarding her concerns about the film’s showing.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, “American Sniper” is based on the autobiography of U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle, who gained recognition for having the most confirmed kills by a sniper in U.S. military history during his service in Iraq.

While some see it as a film as a testament to American nationalism, others, like Mekkaoui, felt the film inspired anti-Muslim sentiment and did not think it was appropriate to show at UMix, which is generally a positive and safe alternative to other Friday night activities.

“The reason why the film was disturbing to be played at UMix is because UMix is supposed to be fun and inclusive, and the movie ‘American Sniper’ raised a lot of controversy from all sides of the spectrum,” Mekkaoui said. “It’s clearly not something that could be fun and inclusive. It just doesn’t go with Build-A-Bear and inflatable laser tag, those things just don’t go with ‘American Sniper.’ ”

Wednesday evening, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said it is unclear whether the “American Sniper” screening will still include a panel discussion, as promised initially by the CCI.

Mekkaoui said the panel discussion is central to her support of the University’s decision to show both films.

“I’m really thankful to CCI for taking quick action in order to make sure that the voices of students were heard on campus and that CCI really acknowledged and made them feel like they mattered,” Mekkaoui said.

In a statement, LSA senior Rachelle Mehdi wrote that she also thought showing film separately with a panel would have been the best solution. She added that she felt CCI, by reversing course on the choice to not show the movie, signaled a disregard for a significant number of students on campus.

“CCI could have stuck to rescheduling it as a different event next week with a post-film panel discussion and it would not infringe the right to freedom of expression as E. Royster Harper claimed it does, because there would have been a provided time and place for students to watch the film,” Mehdi wrote. “The fact that CCI revoked their first statement, even though they initially responded to student concerns very quickly (which showed they understood the concerns and perspectives of students), is truly disappointing and disheartening.”

In response to the controversy, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh wrote in a tweet that he plans to watch the film with his team.

“Michigan Football will watch ‘American Sniper’! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!” Harbaugh tweeted.

The controversy surrounding the screening — which has since gained national media attention — began Tuesday, when Mekkaoui wrote a personal letter of concern to the CCI.

After posting a screenshot of her letter on Facebook and garnering support from peers, Mekkaoui created a collective letter urging the CCI, who organizes UMix, to choose a different film. The letter attracted more than 300 signatures from people who signed as members of Middle Eastern, North African or Muslim communities. Those who did not identify themselves as falling in this category signed “in solidarity.” Mekkaoui said a majority of the signatures were signed by students in solidarity.

“There were actually more non-Middle Eastern students and non-Muslim students than there were Middle Eastern or Muslim students signed on, so that’s fantastic,” Mekkaoui said. “It shows that this is clearly an issue that everyone thinks, from a variety of backgrounds, that it is something really salient and that it’s something that needed to be changed.”

Mekkaoui said during her time as a student at the University, she has learned to take a stance against injustice.

“U of M teaches us that when we see something that is wrong on campus to raise questions, and we proceeded to, so I’m really happy about that,” she said.

However, other students who disagree with Mekkaoui’s views have united behind third-year Law student Rachel Jankowski’s petition, which called on the CCI to reverse their decision and show “American Sniper” on Friday as planned. It’s unclear whether the petition will be taken down now that CCI announced its plans to reschedule the showing for a different forum.

“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 UMix purports to provide,” the CSG petition states. “As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects.”

The petition calls for the CCI to show the movie as planned but allow students to present their own opinions on the film after its showing. The petition currently has 486 signatures as of Wednesday night.

In an e-mail interview, Jankowski wrote that she was proud of the University's decision to show the movie.

“This is a widely acclaimed, non-controversial movie celebrating an American hero, and it should not be stifled because of an exaggerated worry that it may offend someone,” she wrote. “To see hundreds of students, faculty, and even Coach Harbaugh, rally behind this movie, shows the broad consensus of support that American Sniper enjoys across the entire University of Michigan community.”

University alum Hari Vutukuru, an officer in the U.S. Army, tweeted Wednesday morning that he was disappointed in the University’s initial decision to cancel the screening.

“...Did you ever consider how the hundreds of ROTC cadets, midshipmen, & student-veterans would react to this? Shame on you,” he tweeted.

This story has been updated to include additional interviews.