I’m going to be writing MostlyFilm’s Oscars Predictions again* this year and although I will do it under my own name and so can be as partisan and opinionated as I like, I just need to get the following rant out of my system beforehand. Feel free to look away now. There be spoilers ahead for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, so you may prefer to look away for that reason. Whatever, just don’t read what follows, under any circumstances!
*If you look carefully, you’ll notice that I got all the important ones right last time.
On Sunday night, Three Billboards won Best Picture, Best British Picture (it isn’t, but the rules are weird), Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell. It was a veritable sweep, only spoiled by losses to Guillermo del Toro for The Shape Of Water in Director, which everyone knew would happen, Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049 in Cinematography, which everyone hoped would happen, and Jonathan Amos for Baby Driver in Editing, which just goes to show that Edgar Wright could plop out a big poo on the red carpet and people would still defend him. (I haven’t seen Baby Driver.)
Anyway, I saw Three Billboards at its LFF premiere, in October. I’d been excited about it for months and as I settled into my seat I was prepared to laugh, to cry, to be thrilled and to be shocked.
No, wait. Actually, I was hoping for all those things, but I was prepared to be disappointed:
What I mostly remember was that Frances McDormand was amazing, that the plot made no sense and that there was a scene where McDormand’s and Rockwell’s characters throw the n-word around which made me feel uncomfortable. I did laugh and I did cry and I seem to have come out happy enough:
By the next day, I wasn’t so sure:
I know it’s weird and self-indulgent of me to retrospectively analyse my tweets, but the thing is, Three Billboards doesn’t deserve three of its five BAFTA wins because it is a bad, badly-intentioned film that treats race horribly, and there is an argument circulating that people only started to view it that way once “activists” began complaining about it, and that the rest of us are lily-livered liberals who can’t bear to be thought of as on the wrong side, and so we’re all jumping on the bandwagon. Maybe we are, but I didn’t need to read Ira Madison to have a problem with it from the get-go, and if it’s true that the longer I think about it the worse I think it is, that’s just because I’ve had more time to think about it. In a world where black people are regularly murdered by the police, where Donald Trump is president, and where white kids can shoot a dozen people dead and be excused as “bullied” and “misunderstood”, you don’t get to make a film that uses racism as a subject for glib, wisecracking, slapstick. You earn the right to write about a difficult subject by making an effort to understand it, and McDonagh big fat didn’t bother. It’s the only bad thing about the film (if you ignore the plot), but it’s BAD ENOUGH BY ITSELF that the rest of it doesn’t matter. And no, adding a couple of peripheral black characters who do and say nothing that isn’t the barest “will this do?” version of screenwriting doesn’t solve the problem.
Also not an excuse: that he didn’t mean it, it’s not central to the movie, he’s British and they don’t really have racism there (I have genuinely heard this). You don’t have to be racist on purpose to be racist! It’s like nobody’s even SEEN Get Out.
Talking of which, I will be sooooooo angry if this film beats Get Out to Best Picture. But don’t worry, it won’t. I won’t spoil you for the official predictions post (which I think is happening on Oscars weekend itself), but even if I thought Three Billboards would win I wouldn’t predict it, because I still believe in a world where good things happen to good people, and last year it totally worked, apart from the whole envelope thing.