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Despite growing controversy over its heroic portrayal of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy SEAL who killed more than 150 Iraqis during four tours of duty, American Sniper opened across much of the Middle East on Thursday, backed by widespread support from regional cinema chains.
While Warner Bros confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the film would be “releasing in the region,” without specifying which particular countries, theaters in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Lebanon and even Iraq itself have been pushing the title on various social media channels. The film has also launched in Israel.
In the U.A.E., the region’s biggest box office, all three major cinema chains — Novo, Vox and Reel — were heavily promoting American Sniper on their websites and via Facebook. Friday afternoon and evening screenings at the Middle East’s largest cineplex — Reel Cinemas in The Dubai Mall (also the world’s largest mall based on total area) — were completely sold out.
In Iraq, the Empire Cinema in Erbil, the largest city in the Kurdistan region and just 88 kilometres from the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, announced on its Facebook page that it was screening the film. Calls to the cinema to ascertain its popularity went unanswered.
While American Sniper has prompted polarizing opinions in the U.S., several Middle East commentators have voiced their disgust at the film. Journalist Rania Khalek, who has written for The Nation and Al Jazeera America, described it as “brilliant propaganda that valorizes American military aggression while delivering Hollywood’s most racist depiction of Arabs in recent memory.” Khalek tweeted passages from Kyle’s autobiography aimed at highlighting the late soldier’s “hatred, bigotry and unrepentant bloodlust,” later claiming that she was deluged with death and rape threats from the soldier’s supporters.
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