Why Michelle Obama praises 'American Sniper'

First Lady Michelle Obama lauded the film for its portrayal of the 'complex journey' that veterans and their families experience.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
First lady Michelle Obama speaks during the launch event for "6 Certified," a program that encourages film and television to include characters who are veterans Jan. 30 at the National Geographic Society in Washington.

She’s no film critic, but Michelle Obama has given her seal of approval to the Oscar-nominated movie, “American Sniper.”

The first lady spoke in Washington Friday during the launch of “6 Certified,” an initiative toward accurate portrayals of veterans and military families in movies and television. The program is part of a nationwide veterans campaign called Got Your 6, which is military slang for “I’ve got your back.”

"While I know there have been critics, I felt that, more often than not, this film touches on many of the emotions and experiences that I've heard firsthand from military families over these past few years,” Mrs. Obama said at the event.

Since its Jan. 16 release, “American Sniper” – which stars Bradley Cooper as the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle – has both dominated the box office and sparked national debate about veterans and the Iraq war. Mr. Kyle, known as the deadliest sniper in US military history, was credited with 160 kills in four tours before his honorable discharge in 2009.

Critics say the movie glorifies war and violence. Actor Seth Rogen and director Michael Moore were among the first to publicly denounce “American Sniper” on Twitter. Mr. Rogen said the film called to mind a scene about Nazi propaganda in the movie, “Inglourious Basterds,” while Mr. Moore called snipers “cowards.”

Political satirist Bill Maher weighed in as well, calling Chris Kyle “a psychopath patriot,” and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi described him as “a killing machine with a heart of gold.

The backlash was instant. As The Christian Science Monitor reported:

[S]cores of conservatives, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, country music star Blake Shelton, and singer-songwriter Kid Rock, have defended American Sniper as a pro-war film that honors servicemen and women.

Palin addressed "Hollywood leftists" on Facebook. "[W]hile caressing shiny plastic trophies you exchange among one another while spitting on the graves of freedom fighters who allow you to do what you do, just realize the rest of America knows you're not fit to shine Chris Kyle's combat boots," she wrote.

At a veterans’ event Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described Kyle – a native Texan – as “a man who defended his brothers and sisters in arms on and off the battlefield." Mr. Abbott then declared Feb. 2 to be Chris Kyle day in Texas.

Mrs. Obama, during her own speech, focused on the value of portraying veterans honestly and accurately in film and TV – even if what viewers see isn’t always to their taste.

"Here's why a movie like this is important: See, the vast majority of Americans will never see these stories,” she said. “They will never grasp these issues on an emotional level without portrayals like this."

Combat veterans who have seen “American Sniper” agree or disagree to varying degrees with the film’s portrayal of Kyle. But many agree with Obama, saying that the movie gives vets a space to talk about their own very real war experiences.

"Most Americans tell us that they only see veterans portrayed as broken or as heroes who walk on water in film and television," Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6 and a former US Army officer, told Fox News. "We're missing something in the middle.”

That gap is what the “6 Certified” initiative will attempt to fill by recognizing films that show or cast a veteran, tell a veteran’s story, portray a veteran character, or otherwise use a veteran as a resource for production, according to the LA Times. By portraying them as real people to the public, the organizers hope that vets will find it easier to reintegrate into everyday life and society.

The Got Your 6 program aims to shift public perceptions of vets as people who are dealing with unemployment, substance abuse, and homelessness, to recognizing veterans’ leadership skills and tapping them to strengthen communities.

“We have a real opportunity to go way beyond the platitudes of the entertainment industry,” Charles Ebersol, a producer and creator of “6 Certified,” told Fox. “We love to say, 'I support the troops!' and 'I've got a yellow ribbon!' but there's an actual, tangible way to make a difference.”

“That's what the challenge is here," he said.

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