Much has been made of American Sniper, the Oscar-nominated, Clint Eastwood smash about a Navy SEAL with boy-band good looks and the cunning mind of a serial killer. But thus far obscured in the meditative pieces from media thought leaders about "the thrilling anticipation of gunplay" and how it is "doing amazing business in its limited release" is the fact that it shamefully promotes unrealistic beauty standards for babies.
The film notoriously forewent actual child actors in favor of plastic baby dolls, presumably to avoid traumatizing real babies from the terror of being in the same room as director Clint Eastwood. A sagacious decision, but one that poised yet another dilemma: the plastic babies are milkfed and symmetrical, glowing in their perfection and delicately rosy cheeks, sweet and subdued, and will never encounter colic. The babies' noses are flawlessly buttony, their cheeks absolutely round, their tiny lips distended in an unachievable bow. The babies' tans are even, and a perfect shade of sunkissed white skin. Their very existence, the upholding of these babies as somehow the way all babies should look, exerts undue pressure on actual live babies to live up to this type of unachievable ideal, and ultimately sends the message to American Sniper viewers that if their babies are not as perfect as the babies onscreen, then they are not as worthy. It says that in order to be considered beautiful, a baby must be a doll.
It's disgusting—but unsurprising, given Hollywood's impossible body expectations, and further augmented by Eastwood's famously conservative viewpoint.
Perhaps Eastwood felt that he could cut some costs by using a doll. HitFlix writer Drew McWeeny, speculates that maybe Eastwood was so keen to sign off on the film he didn't want to worry himself about the terrifying robot baby... The plastic baby mystery remains unsolved, but their creepy presence is captured on film for all to see, for eternity.
This is not the first time Hollywood has promoted unrealistic standards for babies. In 1989's Look Who's Talking, director Amy Heckerling set a precedent by featuring a very cute, sunglasses-wearing baby who could talk, promoting the idea that babies whose speech was not as advanced were somehow less than the Look Who's Talking baby. 2009's The Hangover featured a baby who liked to party, shaming more introverted babies. In 2006, the British thriller Children of Men showcased a baby that was not only a miracle and a savior of humanity, but the only baby born on earth in decades, promoting a sense of Western exceptionalism that excluded babies who are not the only babies born on earth in decades. And in the 1999 television film Mary, Mother of Jesus, the baby-shaming was blown up on the small screen, creating the absurd expectation that babies must be the son of the Christian god.
We make a collective plea to Clint Eastwood and the cast of American Sniper for the liberation and visibility for all babies, not just ones constructed of plastic and rubber: of human babies, and of babies who are flawed, and babies whose shit and piss and puke is tangible, not just the kind scrawled out into a diaper with yellow and brown magic markers. We demand the depiction of normal, oxygen-breathing babies on our screens, in a show of solidarity that babies come in all shapes and sizes, all religions and nationalities, and do not have to be in possession of perfect diction or enthusiastic participants in nightlife to be good enough to be included in the cast of a film.
Images via Warner Bros/American Sniper
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