The University of Michigan canceled a planned screening of American Sniper after a group of students circulated a petition claiming the film perpetuates anti-Muslim sentiment.
The Clint Eastwood film, about the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, was scheduled to be shown as part of the Center for Campus Involvement’s lineup of UMix events, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“I felt uncomfortable during it,” Lamees Mekkaoui, a UM sophomore who led the petition to have the screening canceled, told the Free Press. “As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that American Sniper condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda.”
Mekkaoui reportedly wrote a letter to the Center for Campus Involvement requesting the film be pulled, and then sent the group a second letter, signed by a “couple of hundred” students, including some from the Muslim Student Association. Mekkaoui said she doesn’t believe the film fits the “fun and enjoyable” atmosphere of UMix events.
On Tuesday, the Center for Campus Involvement posted an update on its Facebook page informing students the film would no longer be shown as scheduled on Friday.
“Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie,” the group said in a statement, adding:
“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.”
After the screening was cancelled, a second petition circulated on campus Wednesday, accusing the school of censorship:
“The movie American Sniper is not about a racist mass murderer or a criminal. 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. 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. Students should be trusted to interact responsibly on a movie no different than any other film depicting the lives of the troops at war, such as Saving Private Ryan.”
In response to that petition, the Center for Campus Involvement announced Wednesday afternoon that the a screening of the film would be rescheduled “in a forum that provides an appropriate space for dialogue and reflection.”
University of Michigan junior Mary Coles suggested to the Free Press that if the film was offensive to students, it would be “pretty easy to skip.”
“I think you can show it and if it offends you, then just don’t go,” Coles told the paper. “It wasn’t like it was mandatory to go. It was just an optional event you could go to if you wanted to.”
Last month, a Muslim student at the University of Missouri sought to cancel a pair of on-campus screenings of American Sniper, writing in the school newspaper that the film represents “blatant racist, colonialist propaganda.” Those screenings continued as scheduled.
American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, was the highest-grossing film of 2014.