International Conference on Religion & Film 21-24 May 2015

I’m excited to head off to Istanbul next week for the 2nd annual International Conference on Religion & Film taking place on 21-24 May 2015. My presentation will be a comparative analysis of the representation of Muslims in The Hurt Locker (2008) and American Sniper (2014). My abstract is below. The rest of the program can be found here.

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For God and Country: Muslims in Cinematic Iraq

Kristian Petersen, University of Nebraska Omaha

The Iraq War (2003-11) has captured the American cinematic imagination for a decade with films arousing both applause and objection by audiences. The most recent account, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014, US), is the highest grossing war film of all time raking in over a quarter billion dollars to date. The film recounts the life of Chris Kyle, a United States Navy SEAL who was the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, as it is presented in his autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (2012). The film received numerous accolades including nominations for six Academy Awards. However, with success comes criticism. The film is accused of celebrating war, killing, and American exceptionalism. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008, US), the story of a three man bomb squad based at Camp Victory in Baghdad, was also widely acclaimed, receiving nine Academy Awards nominations and winning six. Similarly, it also received criticism because of its dramatization of war. As American productions both films present narratives of heroism that are anchored to patriotic duty and tainted by disenchantment. What both films also introduce is a backdrop of Iraqi Muslims who largely identify the dissimilar social setting and justify the myth of redemptive violence. This paper explores how Muslims are represented with these two films and offers a comparative analysis of the cultural assertions being deployed in their representation. To do this I situate their depictions within a filmic historical continuum of Arabs and Muslims and consider the social consequences of representation through the audience responses to these films. While the two films’ narratives seem parallel we are left with differing assessments of who Muslims are, their motivations, and our response to this community.

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