According to Deadline Hollywood, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper opened in the Middle East on January 22nd.
The website states that in Iraq, where much of Chris Kyle’s story takes place, the film has reflected the bitter political divisions in the country. In Baghdad, the management of Iraqi Cinemas, which operates a four-screen theater there, pulled the film ahead of its scheduled opening for fear of inciting protests and violence.
In the Kurdish cities of Irbil, Suleimaniya and Dohuk, however, American Sniper has opened strongly, second only to Liam Neeson-starrer Taken 3.
To give a sense of the complexity of politics in the country, Iraqi Cinemas actually operates the three-screen theater in Dohuk and had no problem releasing the film there, despite its own self-imposed Baghdad ban.
One film executive who operates theaters in Iraq says, “The Kurds don’t like the Baghdadis that much so they have no big problem seeing them getting shot by an American. So far, the film is working well for our screens in Kurdistan.”
In Lebanon, American Sniper opened uncut and at number one with over 3100 tickets sold on its first day alone, ahead of local Lebanese hit Single, Married, Divorced.
Elsewhere, across the region, the film is facing a mixed reception. It opened in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait, albeit with cuts, particularly to a contentious scene involving a Koran. The film was initially rejected by censors in Jordan, which borders Iraq and contains a significant Iraqi population estimated at 200,000 or 4-5% of the population.
There are plans to re-submit the film to censors in the coming days with more cuts to enable the film to get the greenlight to be released in time for next weekend.
The film opened strongly this week in the U.K. and previously gave Eastwood his biggest ever opening in Italy.
Warner Bros has used much of the same powerful emotional marketing materials that scored well with American audiences in the international roll-out and tried to focus on the personal dimensions rather than the political aspects of the story.