“Boy, I hate how it looks”

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:

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 11.20.44

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:

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 11.20.58

By the next day, I wasn’t so sure:

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 11.21.19

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.

Early morning rage

I think I need a new radio station to listen to first thing in the morning. On the days when I leap out of bed like the lark it’s not so bad, because I only get to hear the weather forecast, which is all I really need. But on the days when it takes me a little longer to emerge, blinking, from under the duvet, the Today programme is capable of rousing me to a state of apoplexy that isn’t healthy before breakfast.

I have always been bemused by the programme’s apparent remit to challenge everything their guests say, no matter how apparently uncontroversial. Fighting for the sake of a fight seems an unlikely position for a magazine show to take, although some presenters (I’m looking at you, Humphreys and Naughtie) are worse than others.

But a couple of times in the last week or two this stance seems to have tipped over into something a bit more disturbing. After the imprisonment of Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei earlier this month for misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice, John Humphrys interviewed Alfred John, current chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, of which Dizaei was once president. Fair enough, except that a disproportionate amount of time was devoted to whether and to what extent the MBPA had been “discredited” by Dizaei’s conviction.

If a former police officer breaks the law, it’s the police service itself which is discredited (if anyone but the offender is), and not an association his membership of which had nothing to do with the crime for which he was convicted. What was really happening here was that Dizaei had rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way while at the helm of the MBPA, leading to a distrust of the association in some quarters, and this was a chance to smear it by insinuating that Dizaei’s criminal activity was somehow related to his insistence that the Metropolitan Police is still institutionally racist, when the two things are quite seperate. Just because he’s a criminal doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. Both Alfred John and the other guest, Brian Paddick, agreed that there is still racism within the police service, and that the MBPA has a legitimate and important job to do.

“Given that you have tried and failed by your own admission”, responded Humphrys, “there must surely be a better way of dealing with this.”

This was a novel twist. The MBPA should be disbanded not because there isn’t racism in the police, but because there is. Alfred John dealt with this silly challenge quickly and easily, but he shouldn’t have had to. I’m not sure that emphasising Dizaei’s relationship with the MBPA was the way to go at all in this feature, but the suggestion that there’s a problem with the existence of the association itself because of the actions of one officer, no matter how high-profile, makes me uncomfortable and I think reflects very badly on the programme and its editors.

Then a few days later the Church of England got into another one of its wrangles about gay members of the clergy. “It’s a moral question, isn’t it?”, opined James Naughtie. Well, Jim, not really. Not unless you actually think there’s still a question to be answered about whether it’s OK to be gay. If there isn’t, it’s if anything a legal question about whether the church is breaking employment law by discriminating against a particular group of people. You ridiculous man.

Which made me wonder, incidentally, why we don’t prosecute religious organisations which don’t allow certain groups to do particular jobs, or religious figures who incite hatred by speaking out against certain groups or individuals. Why can’t we ban the Pope from the UK unless he stops attacking equality legislation, or take him to court if he comes? I am fervently hoping Peter Tatchell will rise to the occasion, but he shouldn’t have to. We should oppose discrimination wherever we find it and not avoid confrontation at the risk of offending someone. The Pope is just a man.

So as you can see, I need something calming to wake up to. Birdsong, possibly, or classical music. If you have any suggestions, please let me know before I burst a blood vessel.