Citizen Four: An Oscar Coup?

CitizenFour, an Academy Award coup?

For weeks the Oscar buzz surrounding American Sniper seemed to dominate the airwaves.  You know the movie, starring Bradley Cooper–it’s about real American sniper, Chris Kyle,  credited with the most kills of any American soldier.  Are we being asked to extol the military or soldier or war?  Doesn’t the Pentagon get enough of our dollars? And isn’t U.S. foreign policy reeling from enough disastrous interventions from around th world?  I’m just sayin’.  So although the buzz surrounding American Sniper has been enthusiastic, it’s also been met with grave and ethical pause that begs an examination of what kind of nation the U.S. wants to portray with itself and internationally.   That’s the politics of the movie.  But what about the artistry?

Acting?  It’s Bradley Cooper.  Are you kidding!

Directing?  Clint Eastwood–none better.

But what about the awful story?  As we track Chris Kyle’s moral arc from soldier to sniper to hero, what are we left with? Are we edified by his struggle?  Do we see ourselves in it?  Is his struggle something that we cheer?  Do we embrace his reasons, victories, and rationalization for murdering hundreds?  Are we comfortable with mass murder or is it the new standard for evaluating military heroism?  Even if we are morally conflicted and unable to take a side because we can understand Kyle’s decision to “serve” his country to such a degree, then maybe that justification is too great a one for any individual to make on behalf of any ideology.

If not the movie, then the buzz surround the movie asks us to fawn in shame over the inherent immorality marbled in the act of cheering on an assassin.  The movie is a propagandized effort to get Americans to embrace murder and simultaneously disavow our Christian heritage?  So the buzz has only been charged questions like “Have you seen American Sniper”? or are you going to see American Sniper?  The buzz never reaches beyond its charged phase into serious questioning of what it means for Hollywood to not only endorse but to advocate for mass-murdering soldiers. In this way, the movie is a kind of recruitment film.  I have not seen the film, but I can guess how the moral quandary presented in the movie becomes one that is answered by some young American sitting in the audience with his patriotism being stoked into action to prove that not all American soldiers are unethical and immoral monsters.  And can be great military men.

American Sniper is not an anti-war film.  It might be anti-hero war movie.  It is a story about a soldier doing his duty and how the language by outsiders on his job–from his fellow soldiers to the military press to his family–shape such a calling as sniper.  Somehow American Sniper gives prestige and honor to the role of sniper.  Put Iraqi Sniper in front of it and out immediate reaction would be revulsion.  It was not only Kyle’s duty and sanctions by his commanders that gave turned him into a killing machine but also the language used to demonize and degrade the enemy.  U.S. culture likes to make fun of that Arab voicing his contempt for an infidel.  But what has the U.S. done to Iraqis?  So much of propagandizing for the war removes obvious ethical justifications for it.

Iraqis defending their homeland were called insurgents by invading Americans.  Regardless of the propagandized reasons for invading Iraq, the U.S. was the invading army.  If America were invaded and you started to defend your homeland, would you think of yourself as an insurgent or a patriot?  The answer to this begs the question then what right did Chris Kyle have to brag about having a record number of kills in Iraq against people defending their homeland.  Kyle was one of the invaders, yet his legacy and the movie try to portray him as a reluctant, conscientious hero.  Was he not an invader?  Was he asked by the Iraqi countrymen to come over and kill other Iraqis?

With this as the background to the Oscars, CitizenFour, nominated in a completely different category of Best Documentary, sat quietly on the periphery with an Oscar in its crosshairs.

It’s been joked that Brian Williams, host of NBC Nightly News, is the only American to be punished for lying about the Iraq War. “Finally, someone is punished for misleading America about the Iraq War,” quipped Jon Stewart.  He lied about receiving artillery fire as he was being airlifted into a journalists base. He invented the “receiving artillery” story.  But while the press and media try to make something real and consequential out of Williams’ non-event of lying, real American heroes are punished for telling the truth about war crimes committed by the executive office related to the Iraq War. Bradley Manning, a.k.a., Chelsea Manning, is one such patriot. Edward Snowden is another. Julian Assange is another. Whereas Williams’ assignment as anchor is under review by NBC, these anti-war heroes put their lives at stake and are committed to years of imprisonment and imprisoned exile.

Julian Assange is detained in the Ecuador Embassy in London.

Manning is in maximum security undergoing psychological torture at Leavenworth in Kansas, serving a 35-year prison sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.


But why did CitizenFour win and American Sniper win only Best Sound Editing? I don’t know.  I have not seen either film.

The film’s title, Citizenfour, comes from the pseudonym Snowden used when he first anonymously contacted Poitras.  The documentary was nominated along with four others: Virunga, The Salt of the Earth, Last Days in Vietnam, and Finding Vivian Maier.

I have not seen the film.  But according to Paul Huebl, German filmmakers had incredible access to Ed Snowden during a time when the U.S. government was working feverishly to extradite him back to the U.S. for trial.  Huebl explains that “The German producers of this film were blessed with incredible access to American hero and NSA whistle blower, Edward Snowden.  This was at the time when he was handing over data and documenting the massive criminal acts of our President and high intelligence officials to the Guardian Newspaper.”  So as Snowden is feeding the Germans sensitive American data to the Germans, the U.S. was tapping Angela Merkel’s phones.  What did they learn I wonder?

So does Paul Hueble.  “Then ask yourself why the German government did not grant asylum to Edward Snowden?  Is it because of what Barack Obama may have learned by tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone?”  Whatever Obama and the NSA learned about Merkel, they apparently used it against her to keep from giving Snowden asylum.

Clearly, Merkel must have also learned something about the U.S. and the Obama White House.  Reciprocating blackmail?

snowden 2000
Citizenfour won the Oscar for Best Documentary. L to R are Editor, Dirk Wilutzky, Director Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Ed Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and Editor Mathilde Bonnefoy.

The team were joined onstage by Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. In response to the news, Snowden himself wrote:

“When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honour and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”


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