Awards season is upon us again and it has thrown up its usual head-scratching decisions and annual evidence of blind eyes all over the entertainment industry once again.
The Grammys and Academy Awards have often simply whitewashed the industries they supposedly represent and gone with whatever (usually white) face that they think represents whatever category it is that they are awarding, the Grammys’ Best Rap Album’s disrespectful and downright offensive history being the best evidence for this.
The topic of major industry awards being blind to the work of people of colour is well covered, but another alarming reality became clear when the nominations for the Academy’s Best Actor were announced – hoping to see Miles Teller – Whiplash, I instead read Bradley Cooper – American Sniper.
The nomination of Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Chris Kyle, the most prolific sniper in US military history is problematic in too many ways to mention. The chosen protagonist has been covered extensively since the film’s release, make no mistake about it: Chris Kyle, the “hero” of American Sniper, was a psychopathic racist who enjoyed killing “the damn savages” he wrote of in his autobiography.
Any right-thinking person will know that Chris Kyle was no hero, but it is films like American Sniper that constantly position American soldiers as heroes that feed the American militaristic agenda. Films such as Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken also play a less obvious role in making people sympathetic to the cause of the modern day American army.
Unbroken stars the wonderful Jack O’Connell of Skins and Starred Up fame and tells the incredible story of Olympic long distance runner Louis Zamperini, who was captured by Japanese forces in World War II and routinely tortured. There is no evidence that Zamperini was the reprehensible character that Kyle was, by all reports he was an inspirational man in an awful situation.
Yet stories like this may be even more damaging than films like American Sniper that simply reduce Iraqis to mere targets. Zamperini’s story deserves to be told and his strength should be marvelled at, but that is where the admiration should end. Too often films secretly implant in us an admiration for the “heroics” of the Americans and an aversion to the “savagery” of whoever they are fighting against in these films.
In a time where the USA is threatening to arm the Ukraine to fight Russia, they continue with drone strikes in the Middle East and support Israel’s occupation of Gaza, it is more important than ever to question their military tactics and not simply assume that their cause is noble because Hollywood has repeatedly told stories of their nobility and imprinted the notion that they are constant saviours in us.
American Sniper is just another in a long list of awards season mistakes, should Bradley Cooper win, people will smile and clap politely all the while wondering how a film that used a doll as a baby and Middle Easterns as little more than props was ever taken seriously.
Odrán de Bhaldraithe
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