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Selma Sniper: A look at the two Americas

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MLK weekend my wife and I looked for a movie to see. An online headline promoted the “First real superhero movie.” I thought they were talking about MLK, but I guess in our violence-worshipping culture, the only way some folks would ever consider MLK a hero is if he notched over 100 kills and was called the “Selma Sniper.”

My wife wanted to go to “Selma,” and I kind of wanted to see Clint Eastwood’s new film, “American Sniper.” Clint’s recent films usually bring a more nuanced look at stories of violence than “American Sniper” critics or cheerleaders are likely to think about.

As for the critics, I disagree with Michael Moore that all snipers are cowards. Snipers may be either heroic or cowardly. They are just doing their job. I loved Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” but Seth Rogen should stick to comedy before he gets himself killed. What possible similarity could there be between the true story of the pride of our nation trained to do his job—to kill from a distance and protect his brothers in arms for love of country—and the fictional account of some Hitler Youth brainwashed to do his job to kill from a distance and protect his brothers in arms for love of country? Besides, if Tarantino’s fictional film within a fictional film were real, the fictional Nazi’s would have been forced to see the propaganda by their fascist government. Here in real America, we broke all kinds of box-office records on MLK weekend with “American Sniper.” As well, it happened of our own free will! The joke’s on Seth; isn’t it?

“American Sniper” sold out before I could convince my wife it was the perfect date movie. Young couples and young women, with tight skirts and push-up bras, queued up in libidinous droves to see “American Sniper.” They stood side-by-side to their own real-life super hero men. I guess my wife just didn’t get that a dude spending much of his life with a high-powered rifle and  a long, groovy night scope, training to penetrate any target from a mile away, practically shouts “empathy,” and “emotional stability.”

So we did what many empathetic folks did in 1965. We went to “Selma.” Sadly, we went to “Selma” with a half-empty theater of geriatrics. Was this part of what MLK spoke about at Stanford in 1967 in his “The Two Americas” speech? In one America, the “American Sniper” libidinous youth engaged in one story of struggle, and in another those of us with longer memories and less hormones engaged in a different story—a different struggle. 

Inspired by Selma’s heroism and hope, I marched in our MLK Parade as a guest of Grandmothers for Peace. I’m not a grandmother, but I like to observe life from different vantage points. It helps me develop empathy. Some people find empathy helpful, and developing empathy is a hopeful sign.

While waiting in the assembly area, I stumbled across another hopeful sign. I pretty much tripped on a slight but powerful woman of color who was readying to march with the Big Buddy group next to us. Viv wore a sweatshirt with Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true,” stitched into it. It was cool and consistent with the day. She started a conversation, and I warned her that I was part writer and anything she said to me might be used against her in the court of public opinion.

If our president is right about the State of the Union being strong, he’s talking about Viv’s strength. She didn’t look like she  would be able to haul a Win Mag .300 up mountains, sight and squeeze. But at 23 years old and barely 100 pounds, she has earned a biology degree with honors from UNCW, volunteers with Big Buddy, has worked with Ameri-Corp, and will enter med school this fall, after she returns from helping develop sustainable clean water in a developing nation. Answer the phone people. That’s the future calling. 

I shared my movie experience and concerns about “The Two Americas” with Viv. She said she saw “Selma” the night it opened, with her aunt, in a near-empty theater. She then shrugged a silent eyes-on-the-prize shrug. Her presence reminded me that years from now people won’t remember Bradley Cooper or “American Sniper,” but we still will be marching on the third Monday in January to honor Martin Luther King.

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