I was looking forward to seeing American Sniper. I took my brown Native high school-aged son to see it. I’m a fan of Clint Eastwood’s acting and directing, and his Sniper is a beautifully shot and directed action packed flick. But after his film, I spent the hour’s drive home explaining to my son why I thought the movie was dangerous and corrosive to the American people.
This is a tense war movie that looks great. But just underneath the film’s sexy veneer is a shockingly racist ideology of hate and death that is advanced by the white male sniper Chris Kyle.
Kyle is the ideological descendant of Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. He belongs to an elite white male cadre of swinging dick meat eaters who will solve the problems of invaded brown people with a bullet. Iraqi and Syrian combatants are called “fuckin’ savages.” Direct statements of racism and death may or may not reflect the realities of the modern U.S. military. But they do give rise to false dichotomies that dehumanize the enemy and make it kinda fun, cool and necessary to kill them.
For the moment, Sniper is the fave mascot of the reactionary right wing of white America. Its visual beauty softens the harsh fact that the movie glorifies death, racism, hatred, religious prejudice, sexism, colonialism and moral corrosion. It presents some great ideas about caring for and protecting the people of your tribe. If you’re a white Christian American, that is. Women, minorities, kids, Muslims need not apply. They’re part of the bullet-to-the-head fix.
Why is this film so important in its depiction of outdated and corrosive white conservative male values? Because it is a time of great change and social movement in the world. The time of white American male rule and hegemony is coming to an end. And American wingnuts don’t like it one bit.
A classic function of horror and sci-fi movies is to code racially and socially taboo stories in the guise of fantasy. Sniper follows this formula. It’s a snapshot into the psyche of a retrograde white conservative male patriarchy. It lets us glimpse its fears and desires (loss of power and male potency) as well as its hopes and desires (white men will kill their way back to the top).
Americans as a whole are too ignorant of the country’s past colonial violence against Native and African Americans and current world affairs to really question uncomplicated black, brown and white narratives of war. The audience largely clapped at the end of the movie.
This is potentially a time for great social change and growth in America and the world. Dated stories of white male privilege and uber violence are divisive and corrosive to this positive change.
It’s up to us as Indigenous Peoples and as Americans to question simplified stories glorifying violence and racism and sexism. It’s time to educate ourselves about the violence of this country’s past, and to come together as a people to build a stronger, inclusive and more unified America.
Mateo Romero is an enrolled tribal member at Cochiti Pueblo. Born in the Bay Area, he completed his BA at Dartmouth College and his MFA in painting at UNM. He is an award -winning artist who has exhibited both nationally and internationally. A former SAR Dubin Fellow, Romero lives in Pojoaque Pueblo with his potter wife Melissa Talachy, and their sons Rain and River. He shows his paintings at Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe.