Martin McDonagh is already the toast of awards season thanks to his latest movie “The Banshees of Inisherin,” which dazzled the Venice Film Festival with a 13-minute standing ovation and the prizes for best screenplay and best actor for Colin Farrell. McDonagh’s last directorial outing, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” similarly launched at Venice to critical acclaim and a screenplay win, but the film ignited backlash as Oscar season continued due to its storyline involving a racist cop (Sam Rockwell) who finds redemption. McDonagh recently told The Guardian that such backlash was “hurtful.”
Many opponents of “Three Billboards” condemned the film for being too sympathetic towards Rockwell’s character, who uses the N-word, shares bigoted views and enacts racial violence. That Rockwell emerged as the season’s best supporting actor frontrunner (he ultimately won the Academy Award) only intensified the backlash against the movie.
“I could see where that debate could come from,” McDonagh told The Guardian. “But I thought it was not seeing what I see in the film. The bait in the whole idea was: what’s a villain and what’s a hero? But I don’t know. Basically, if someone’s calling your film racist, and you wrote and directed it, that means they’re calling you a racist. And I’ve always been so anti-that, that, yes, it’s hurtful. No one wants to be called that.”
With “The Banshees of Inisherin” now drawing acclaim, McDonagh expressed frustration with one rave review that called the movie a return to form after “the gross misstep that was ‘Three Billboards.’”
“I thought, ‘gross misstep’, really?” McDonagh said. “Was it that bad?”
For what it’s worth, McDonagh stands by the toxic characters that populate his film and stage works. The writer-director said he refuses to let theater companies put on his plays if they intend to edit out a character’s offensive words.
“Put a warning in the program notes, sure, but let the character be who they are,” McDonagh said. “Trust your audience to have the intelligence to know I’m not using these words. Characters need to be whatever they need to be. If they’re nice, fine. If they’re homophobic, you’ve got to know it’s the character. If there are racist words, then that’s to show an audience that this part of Ireland is racist. Or we’re going in a direction of a bland, inoffensive nothingness.”
“The Banshees of Inisherin” opens in theaters Oct. 21 from Searchlight Pictures.
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