Unpopular Opinion, Special Edition: “Selma” vs. “American Sniper”

By Ethan Sapienza

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Via Indie-Outlook

The Academy missed a golden opportunity to give Ava DuVernay a best director nomination for “Selma,” which would have made her the first African-American woman to earn one. The Academy said “Selma” misrepresented Lyndon B. Johnson, presenting scenarios that portrayed the former president as the politician he actually was. Those scenes were there purposefully — to correct representations of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

It can be assumed that the Academy disliked this change in representation and decided to snub “Selma” in numerous other categories to prevent its view of the Civil Rights Movement from being widely accepted. Yet “American Sniper,” a film that blatantly distorts the truth, did not receive such shame from the Academy.

Though some disliked the film, concerning its jingoist, racist agenda, “Sniper” did not receive the same treatment as “Selma.” Less informed moviegoers see “Selma” as “that movie that misrepresented Lyndon Johnson,” whereas “Sniper” is seen as the next great war-biopic. In blaring fashion, though, “Sniper” skips over post-traumatic stress disorder, an integral part in understanding war and violence and their impact on a soldier. It initially experiments with PTSD in an interesting fashion, showing how disturbed Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) has become between his tours and offering a mix of fear, paranoia and longing to return to war, but mostly fast forwards through it.

“Sniper” establishes how Kyle is now fine, he is a great husband and a hero to the United States. However, according to his autobiography, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” Kyle was still struggling with PTSD at the end of his life, but the film shows the opposite, offering a character who has overcome the disorder through manhood and heroism. In stark contrast, he is brutally slaughtered by a weaker man, at least according to the film. This results in transforming “Sniper” into a recruitment video rather than an honest portrait of an accomplished soldier who, as a result of being a hero, has killed scores of people. The man still lived with the guilt from taking a life and was ready to go back into battle like it was nothing. This conquering of a haunting disorder is a falsehood that, given the success of the film, can be seen as being widely accepted as reality, but it is not. “Sniper” opted to emphasize the tragedy of Kyle’s death, milking sympathy from it.

Where “Selma” purposefully attempted to correct the misrepresentation of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, “Sniper” misrepresented Chris Kyle as a hero and as someone who quickly overcame PTSD.

Ethan Sapienza is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at film@nyunews.com

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