Unintentional Racism

Everybody has had this annoying feeling of being surrounded by people laughing at something that you do not find funny at all. I felt like this while observing people enjoying the heavy jokes of the movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Fortunately, I try to write about things that I am passionate about on this column because it is always more rewarding to transmit some enthusiasm than to pontificate – from a position of superiority – about things that one hates. But now, I do not write as a movie buff, but as a citizen, a citizen who observes how we – people who have the chance to observe the world and then talk about it whether by writing journalistic articles, literary tales or movie stories – are missing the target and provoking non-deserved applause such as that received by this movie.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is about a woman (Frances McDormand) from a small town in Missouri, who is convinced that the police have not done enough to find out who killed her daughter and decides to act on her own. She rents billboards on a not very busy road and uses them to post sentences demanding that the allegedly non-investigated case be reopened. The murder itself is not elucidated and it is practically low priority. The mother’s pain – the pain that must have been considered as trivial and sentimental by the director – is replaced by a kind of offensive grimace on McDormand, which changes her into a superhero and not so much a woman suffering the worst misfortune a mother could ever have.

That’s because the script seems like an excuse from the director to confirm his own prejudices. The artist landed with his impressive movie trailers in a village in the American Midwest, looked around and with lack of knowledge and lack of empathy portrayed the rural population as racist, ignorant, and homophobic. The audience laughs. They laugh because they think the director’s outlook is progressive. After all, isn’t he talking about all those uneducated people who voted for Trump and against women, black people, homosexuals and the environment? The audience also laughs because they are Americans and we already know that Americans outside of New York City and Los Angeles are primate beings, who lack judgment and who point rifles at you for any little thing.

It is too bad we do not realize that this same simplistic reasoning is now applicable to Great Britain’s Brexit, where director Martin McDonagh is certainly from. I wonder how we would perceive this crude joke if a film crew invaded a village in Cadiz (Spain) – that has almost 40 percent unemployment – using moral superiority shrouded in irrefutable progressive ideas, and portrayed its citizens as archaic and reactionary. I suspect that this could not happen here. Luckily, we kept some sort of respect for those rural areas where some of us are from. But in a huge and disorganized country such as the United States, people are undoubtedly more prone to distance from and contempt for those impoverished white people, white trash people, as Americans denominate them – with such cruelty it causes shivers.

I was relieved when the movie started to be considered “unintentionally racist” right after its first triumph at the Golden Globes. That’s Hollywood, a city devoted to current causes – all of them identity causes – and so little empathetic to the social reality of the country. There is a social decay that threatens to surround the opulent area of the city of movies since there are about 50,000 homeless people living in the metropolitan area of La La Land. It is an emergency situation that extends to San Francisco, where poor people from colder states go to protect themselves from severe weather.

The movie, of course, exudes violence, but because it is violence exerted by a hurting woman, it is worthy of applause. If this mother, dressed as a kind of female Rambo, verbally beats up two students, it is because they deserved it; if she burns the police station with an officer inside, it is fair; if she accuses the priest of consenting to all the sexual abuse of his peers, it’s funny. The problem is that she does not seem to be a resident of a small town, but an actress who came from Hollywood disguised as a paramilitary activist to teach a small – but huge – moral lesson to all the rednecks or hillbillies. How different from the unforgettable Frances McDormand in “Mississippi Burning,” a movie directed by Alan Parker. She played a true woman of the people, immersed in the racist nightmare of the South in the ‘60s, but not even the villains were portrayed as ludicrous caricatures nor the violence exerted by the good guys invited any silly applause. Director McDonagh once stated that Anton Chekhov was boring and Quentin Tarantino was exciting. Perhaps he should be more like Chekhov and less like Tarantino. So what I realized – thus my concern – is that the cocky attitude regarding those who do not think like us explains why good causes do not persuade those who need them the most. Could it be because instead of captivating them we mock them?

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