The actor tells in an interview that he once had homicidal thoughts against black men. Brave confession or totally off the mark?
Did Liam Neeson want to speak out against racism, or promote his film? Photo: ap
Most celebrities pay close attention to what they say in interviews and how what they say might be understood. Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson has now chosen a different path. He has confessed to having once harbored racist violent fantasies in the past. Courageous confession? Or just out of line?
Neeson has given an interview to the British online magazine The Independent. The occasion is the release of his new film "Cold Pursuit" on Thursday. In it, an average citizen becomes a killer because his son is murdered. The reporter asks him about thoughts of revenge, and Neeson talks about an episode in his life that was marked by racism and toxic masculinity.
"I’m going to tell you a story. It really happened that way," the 66-year-old begins. An acquaintance once told him about a rape, Neeson says. He then asked, "What color was his skin?" The acquaintance answered that the perpetrator was black.
As a result, he says, he spent a week roaming the streets with a club, hoping to be provoked by a black male. It is a horrific confession with which the "Schindler’s List" star has unleashed an avalanche of criticism on the net overnight. Many fans are horrified or even disgusted by their idol, some even believe that this could be the end of Neeson’s career.
The problem of the "others
It’s pretty irresponsible to just blurt out racist murder fantasies into the mass media as a role model. True, Neeson told the story in a specific context, but he had to know that The Independent would post an excerpt of the audio. The background of the statement in particular must make one wonder: Neeson is promoting a movie in which the protagonist follows a similar short-circuit reaction. What is he trying to achieve? Are violent racists supposed to find a hero?
It is certainly easier to speak out vehemently against racism and toxic masculinity than to confess that one has fallen for these ideologies and almost become a perpetrator oneself
On the other hand, too sweeping a criticism is again not justified. The actor not only clearly distances himself from his former self ("I’m ashamed"), he also contrasts his male avenger behavior with that of the acquaintance who experienced the sexualized violence. She dealt with it "in a very amazing way," Neeson prefaces his narrative.
It is certainly easier to speak out vehemently against racism and toxic masculinity than to admit that one has fallen for these ideologies and almost become a perpetrator oneself. For racist violence to be taken seriously as a problem, it must become clear that it is not always only undefined others who harbor such thoughts, but also those we might count as "the good guys."
If Neeson was hoping for something like apology or even sympathy, however, the math doesn’t add up. His confession may be important, but it is still frightening. And certainly quite unsuitable as advertising for a feature film.