Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.
For a few months now, most experts have said this awards season would be full of wins for Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out and Lady Bird. Then, the Golden Globes threw a wrench in the plan by giving a number of awards, including best drama, to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
But with Three Billboards comes a lot of controversy. The movie focuses on Frances McDormand’s character, Mildred Hayes, who rents three billboards to call out the local police, who haven’t solved the abduction, rape, and murder of her daughter. But this story takes a back seat for long stretches to tell the story of a supremely racist police officer, who has illegally tortured a black man in custody.
On one hand, many contend that Sam Rockwell’s character, Officer Dixon, is never forced to reckon with his racism, or even denounce his actions, before the movie tries to make him a sympathetic hero. In an age of increased scrutiny on police officer’s behavior toward black citizens, this movie tries to tackle a racist cop without including any black characters in its main cast. There are several black characters on the margins of the story, but none that really take center stage.
Others argue that the movie is about the toxicity of these racial biases, that we’re supposed to disdain Dixon and the town that refuses to hold him accountable. as one character in the movie says, violence only begets more violence. Three Billboards features a lot of violent characters, and ultimately, none of them are entirely good people.
I don’t think anyone would argue that Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell don’t deliver exceptional performances. But the movie’s script has left it open to debate over whether it is denouncing police brutality or accepting it as a part of American life.
Controversy can be a good thing for a film, but it will be interesting to see how the awards conversation around Three Billboards forms. Will the controversy allow it to thrive, or will its questionable race relations sink its chances? Only time will tell…and Oscar nominations will be released on Tuesday.
I’m Evan Rook.