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CEC to hold post-film talk on ‘American Sniper’ after student outcry

On the undergraduate government’s Campus Events Commission’s Facebook event page for Tuesday’s film screening of “American Sniper,” students protested the free showing of the controversial, Oscar-nominated film. In response, CEC added a discussion after the screening.
(Warner Bros.)

By Sam Bozoukov

April 20, 2015 11:46 p.m.

Undergraduate student government officers added a post-film discussion to their Tuesday screening of “American Sniper” after dozens of students plastered its Facebook event page with concerns that the film promotes Islamophobia and glorifies war.

“American Sniper,” released in January, is based on the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who has the most recorded kills in U.S. military history and who served four tours during the Iraqi war. Some who like the film say it celebrates an American war hero and sheds light on the internal struggles soldiers face after war. But many of the commenters on Facebook said they want the screening on campus to be cancelled because they said they think the film perpetuates Islamophobia and ideas of American imperialism.

Undergraduate Students Association Council Campus Events Commissioner Greg Kalfayan said he decided to show “American Sniper” for students who didn’t have the opportunity to watch it when it was first released. The commission is currently showing all films nominated for the best picture Academy Award, which includes “American Sniper.”

“We anticipated criticism, but not in the amount we received,” Kalfayan said.

The CEC staff knew “American Sniper” had already stirred controversy on other college campuses, said CEC director of films and third-year sociology student Stone Frankle. At the University of Michigan, over 200 students signed a petition earlier this month asking the school to cancel a student-planned free showing of the movie. The school canceled the showing at first, but ended up showing the movie despite the petition, saying that canceling the event was inconsistent with its values of freedom of expression.

Since Kalfayan said CEC has put on other controversial events this year, such as a panel about pornography and an advanced screening of “The Interview,” he and Frankle thought “American Sniper” could also serve as a valuable forum for generating discussion.

“I think the point of a university is to provide a place where people can witness controversial material and discuss it,” Kalfayan said.

CEC didn’t initially plan on having a discussion after the movie, but after receiving backlash for the event, Kalfayan added a roundtable discussion after the screening for students to express their opinions. Kalfayan said Monday that UCLA communication studies professor Kieth Fink will moderate the post-film discussion, which will last about 30 minutes. CEC has held one post-movie discussion this academic year for its screening of “Dear White People.”

Despite the added discussion, some students said they feel the movie perpetuates Islamophobia and that showing the movie is offensive to several communities on campus.

Muslim Student Association external vice president and fifth-year international development studies student Sarah Rahimi emailed Kalfayan once she saw the film’s Facebook event page. Though Rahimi said she thinks CEC didn’t have bad intentions, she explained in her email why the film is offensive to her and the Muslim community.

“There are so many depictions of violence against Muslims,” Rahimi said. “(A Muslim) is either a victim or an aggressor. (A Muslim) doesn’t exist beyond those parameters.”

Rahimi said she doesn’t believe the event should be canceled because it has created discussion on issues regarding the Muslim community. However, she said she doesn’t believe the discussion will be useful since people can choose not to participate.

Despite the objections against the movie, some students argue that canceling the movie would violate one’s First Amendment rights.

“I think freedom of speech and expression is highly valued by our government and by all universities,” said Jorjit Bhullar, a fourth-year chemical engineering student. “No group of students has the right to tell a majority what they can or can’t watch.”

More than 470 students indicated on the event page that they are attending the screening as of Monday afternoon.

Although he said he can’t go to the event Tuesday, first-year mechanical engineering student Kyle Rodgers said he would have wanted to attend to see the movie a second time.

Rodgers said he thought the movie was cinematically as well as thematically appealing and he liked the way the film depicted Chris Kyle’s complex issues surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I don’t think it portrays war as good; it shows the consequences,” Rodgers said.

Some students said they want to see the movie primarily for the discussion that CEC added. Ashley Han, a first-year economics student, said when she saw the Facebook page her mind was opened to issues of Islamophobia she hadn’t considered before.

“I wanted to see the debate because my opinion on the movie hasn’t been fully formed yet,” Han said. “From the plot summaries I’ve read, the movie seems to deal a lot with morality, but it’d be interesting to see what other issues it raises.”

Frankle said he thinks the debate they are implementing is reason enough to show the movie.

“I don’t have an opinion on the movie yet, because I haven’t seen it,” Frankle said. “The fact that we’re having this discussion shows that the movie needs to be shown so people can form their own opinions.”

Kalfayan said he hasn’t been contacted by any UCLA administrators to cancel the movie and CEC will continue with the screening as planned.

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