Martin McDonagh: Three billboards criticized as racist were hurtful

Martin McDonagh is already the toast of the awards season thanks to his latest film The Banshees of Inisherin, which dazzled the Venice Film Festival with a 13-minute standing ovation and Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards for Colin Farrell. McDonagh’s last directorial effort, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, also opened in Venice and received critical acclaim and won the screenplay, but the film sparked backlash as Oscar season progressed because its plot involved a racist police officer (Sam Rockwell) who finds redemption. McDonagh recently told The Guardian that such backlash was “hurting”.

Many opponents of “Three Billboards” condemned the film as being too sympathetic to Rockwell’s character, who uses the N-word, shares bigoted views, and commits racial violence. That Rockwell emerged as the best supporting actor of the season (he eventually won the Oscar) only compounded the backlash against the film.

“I could see where this debate might be coming from,” McDonagh told The Guardian. “But I thought it wouldn’t look like what I see in the film. The bait in the whole idea was: what is a villain and what is a hero? But I do not know. When someone calls your film a racist and you wrote and directed it, that basically means they call you a racist. And I’ve always been so against that, yeah, it’s hurtful. Nobody wants to be called that.”

With The Banshees of Inisherin now gaining acclaim, McDonagh expressed his frustration with a rave review that called the film a return to form after “the gross misstep of ‘Three Billboards’.”

“I thought ‘gross misstep’, really?” said McDonagh. “Was it that bad?”

For what it’s worth, McDonagh stands by the toxic characters that populate his film and stage work. The writer-director said he opposes having theater companies perform his plays if they intend to edit out a character’s offensive words.

“Put a warning in the program notes, sure, but leave the character as is,” McDonagh said. “Trust that your audience has the intelligence to know I am don’t use those words. Characters have to be what they have to be. If they’re nice, fine. If they’re homophobic, you need to know it’s the character. If there are racist words it is to show an audience that this part of Ireland is racist. Or we’re headed toward some insipid, harmless nothingness.”

The Banshees of Inisherin hits theaters October 21 from Searchlight Pictures. Martin McDonagh: Three billboards criticized as racist were hurtful

Charles Jones

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