Why Baghdad's Only Movie Theater Had To Pull American Sniper

As we quickly approach the 2015 Oscars, the American Sniper controversies are far from over. The Clint Eastwood film starring Bradley Cooper as the deadliest sniper in U.S. history, Chris Kyle, may be raking in movie ticket sales and breaking box-office records, but it continues to stir the political pot. Now the tension has even spilled overseas to Baghdad, where its only movie theater has pulled the film from its slate amid various complaints.

The theater, located in Baghdad’s new Mansour Mall, is the first to offer an American-style moviegoing experience to Iraqis, which includes tubs of popcorn and the latest movie releases. However, as reported by The Washington Post, the theater’s manager, Fares Hilal, was contacted over the phone by a senior official from the Ministry of Culture who threatened him with fines and potential closure if he didn’t pull American Sniper. This placed Hilal in a precarious position, but he ultimately complied with the demand. As he said:

If we show it, we will be criticized. But if we don’t, we lose money. A lot of people wanted to see this film.

Many people did see the film anyway, through online channels. But there were many citizens besides government officials who denounced the film. As The Post notes, one theater screening of the film incited shouts from the audience due to harmful and insulting portrayals of the Iraqi people. Specifically, the scene in which a young boy picks up a grenade launcher was called "a lie" and "demeaning" to the culture. According to other viewers, like 27-year-old teacher Ahmed Kamal, there are many inaccuracies and one-sided retellings that form a false image of Iraqis.

As Kamal said, American Sniper makes all Iraqis out to look like terrorists and "savages," while all the American characters were glorified for their bravery. In addition, 32-year-old Sarmad Moazzem, who was one of the many Iraqis who worked with the American troops, said the film left out this entire portion of the story.

While the argument can be made that American Sniper is just a film and should be taken more as a dramatization instead of historical fact, it’s important to note that Muslim- and Arab-Americans have noted a stark rise in threats made against them as a result of the film. According to a letter addressed to Bradley Cooper by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the largest Arab civil rights organization in America, the negative portrayals of these people in the film has reignited hatred and harmful stereotypes. The group’s president, Samer Khalaf, called for a statement from the star of the film denouncing such actions by audience members, as he felt simply boycotting the film would only inspire more people to go see it. As of this time, the Oscar nominee has yet to respond.