The University of Michigan cancelled, and then rescheduled, a campus showing of American Sniper. The school’s new football coach announced that his players will watch the movie.
Michigan Football will watch “American Sniper”! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) April 9, 2015
The Clint Eastwood film, which depicts Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle’s exploits on the battlefield in Iraq and his life at home, elicited outrage from the campus Muslim community. The school pulled the movie, and then amid a backlash, the University of Michigan agreed to play the Academy Award-winning film at its regular time and place.
“Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie,” a statement by the school’s Center for Campus Involvement read earlier this week. “We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students.”
Sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui, who tied the film to anti-Muslim hate crimes, launched a petition to cancel the movie on Tuesday, and on Tuesday the university cancelled the movie. The petition claims, “The movie ‘American Sniper’ not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA [Middle Eastern and North African] rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.”
But almost as quickly as the administrators in Ann Arbor killed the film they brought it back amid a loud chorus of condemnation for censoring a work of art at a public institution.
“It was a mistake to cancel the showing of the movie ‘American Sniper’ on campus as part of a social event for students,” E. Royster Harper, the vice president of student life, noted in a statement. “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. The movie will be shown at the originally scheduled time and location. We recognize, however, that some students are uncomfortable with the content of the movie, and appreciate that concern.”
To that end, the University of Michigan will show Paddington, the story of an anthropomorphic Peruvian bear displaced by an earthquake who finds a home in London and escapes the clutches of a would-be taxidermist, as an alternative to American Sniper.
Football coaches show game film during the week. They show movies the night before. Bill Belichick, who has screened The Fighter and Lone Survivor for the New England Patriots in past years, received help from Clint Eastwood to play American Sniper for his team this Super Bowl-winning season before it hit theaters.
Tom Brady, like Harbaugh a former University of Michigan quarterback, called American Sniper “phenomenal” after watching it with his teammates at a cinema adjacent to Gillette Stadium.