The University of Michigan’s Center for Campus Involvement, which sponsors a wide variety of student entertainment, scheduled a showing of American Sniper, the biggest grossing film of 2014 and an Academy Best Picture nominee. This was too much for sensitive Michigan students, who complained that the movie is anti-Muslim and would make them feel “unsafe.” This letter was signed by around 300 Muslim students and others:
Anti-Muslim and anti-MENA hate crimes are growing increasingly common. These incidents create an unsafe space that does not allow for positive dialogue and triggers U of M students. Examples like the recent Chapel Hill shooting, which took the lives of three Arab American Muslim students, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, contribute to this lack of safety and space for Muslim and/or MENA students. Deah’s sister, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, has publicly stated how American Sniper has contributed to a culture of Islamophobia in America. Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome.
The movie American Sniper not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer. Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi civilians. Middle Eastern characters in the film are not lent an ounce of humanity and watching this movie is provocative and unsafe to MENA and Muslim students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world values their lives. What we instead should offer is compassion and respect towards others.
As U of M students, we ask you to please reconsider showing this movie in order to be a welcoming place to students of all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.
The university group responsible for scheduling the film promptly caved:
Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie. Therefore, we have elected to pull the film from this week’s program and screen another movie in its place that we believe better creates the fun, engaging atmosphere we seek, without excluding valued members of our community.
We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students and staff alike. 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. Nevertheless, as we know, intent and impact can be very different things. While our intent was to show a film, the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcome at our program. UMix should always be a safe space for students to engage, unwind, and create community with others, and we commit to listening to and learning from our community in the interest of fostering that environment.
The Center for Campus Involvement and its UMix Late Night program are dedicated to providing a positive, fun, and engaging student experience for all students on campus. We will take time to deeper understand and screen for content that can negatively stereotype a group.
The Center for Campus Involvement replaced American Sniper with Paddington Bear.
I thought it might be interesting to see what other movies the Center is screening this month. If American Sniper is too hot to handle, what films are considered suitable for Michigan’s tender youth?
Tonight the Center is screening The Mask You Live In, a documentary about masculinity:
The pic opens with former NFL defensive lineman (and now motivational speaker) Joe Ehrmann discussing how playing football was his way of showing off the “hypermasculinity” he felt obligated to demonstrate. These expectations take root early: Sociologist Michael Kimmel says that a sure way to get boys fighting on an American playground is to call someone a sissy. Political scientist Caroline Heldman says that the idea of masculinity is tied up with a “rejection of everything that is feminine.” …
Siebel Newsom (who is married to California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom) gives her doc an almost unwieldy scope; masculinity is examined in relation to drinking, homophobia, depression, bullying, the stigmatization of male intimacy, crime, videogames, porn and campus sexual assault.
Of course. One wonders where Chris Kyle would fit into that film’s view of masculinity.
Tomorrow night, it’s Cambodian Son, a documentary about a Cambodian refugee who was imprisoned for fourteen years for his involvement in a gang shooting and then deported to Cambodia. The story has a happy ending, as the protagonist becomes a poet.
Through Khiev’s journey Sugano highlights a history, an American prison system and immigration policies that tear families apart and often leave individuals by themselves to battle hardships.
So apparently Michigan students are deemed capable of handling adult themes, as long as they have the proper perspective.
At a time of unprecedented global challenges, the under-30 “millennial” generation has every reason to be disengaged. Yet plenty of millennials are engaged. Call it the empathy revolution. Extreme By Design, an hour-long documentary film, brings this revolution to life by following three university students as they design and build products to meet basic needs of the world’s poor.
On the 21st it’s Jurassic Park, so commercial films are not entirely out of bounds.
On April 23 it’s back to documentaries with Nowhere to Call Home, about Tibet:
The film breaks down the sometimes romantic Shangri-La view that Westerners have of Tibet, showing it to be a place with many hidebound traditions, especially discrimination against women. It also offers a shocking portrait of the outright racism that Zanta and other Tibetans face in Chinese parts of the country.
On the 24th, the university is screening two films about Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes: His Life and Times and Langston Hughes: Salvation. Hughes was an African-American poet of some distinction. He was also a Communist who spent a year in the Soviet Union.
All in all, it seems that the University of Michigan believes its students are capable of absorbing some pretty gritty and controversial fare. One perspective, though, is apparently out of bounds: depiction of an American soldier in a favorable light. That is too much for Michigan students to bear. Hence, evidently, Paddington.