Wednesday, April 04, 2018
Three Billboards is a complex film that brings out complex feelings in its audience. Here's one reflection of the film by TFG's daughter, Maddisen, a social justice warrior:
Many leftist reviewers targeted Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, with claims that Officer Dixon’s “redemption arc” represented a problematic humanization of racist officers — a group that many leftists deem undeniably deserving of dehumanization, myself included.
There’s no question that as a whole, government officials and police officers have targeted and continue to target people of color in our country, and as a group deserve to be dehumanized and held accountable for the systemic racism thrusted upon our social operations. But the key theme in this need for accountability can be seen in the words “group,” “systemic,” and “whole.” It is when groups become individuals that I, even as a leftist, will form a separation. As much of a cop hater I am, I still will recognize the need to humanize Willoughby and Dixon.
It was precisely the point of the film and was beautifully presented: human potential.
I am no denier that privileges exist in white men, and I was wary when seeing the film knowing that white men, especially white officers, were given a platform of any kind. But again I point out, it was not these men as officers that were given the spotlight. The spotlight was given to the humanity of the men, the individuality, and the struggle that their own lives held, as people in general. We were given a glimpse into the men’s views of the world; their unique perspectives and what shaped them as racists, be it illness, poverty, lack of education, or years of abuse. What I will not do is justify their racism; what I will do is understand it. I do believe there is a difference — justifying it excuses the behavior, but understanding it gives us a causal factor that leads us to a solution.
That’s exactly what I saw in Three Billboards; their stories gave us an understanding of the men’s convictions, and Dixon’s redemption gave us a glimmer of hope. His struggles and his racism should have never made their way into his career as a police officer; that’s a problem in the way we choose and train our officers, and their philosophy as a group. But individually, it was important to humanize him to give us an understanding. There is hope in understanding; when causes are found, solutions are more attainable.
As for humanizing Dixon, I’m reminded of the short scene that almost felt out of place, though was important for the overall theme of forgiveness. When Red Welby and Jason Dixon are paired as hospital roommates, Welby acts as expected when he realizes it is Dixon under the bandages. But at the end of the scene, Welby pours Dixon a glass of orange juice, pointing the straw in his direction, as a sign of humanity on Welby’s part, and a sign of acknowledging Dixon’s humanity as well.
There are a few prime examples, like the hospital scene, of holding the group accountable instead of the individual: Mildred’s anger is my favorite. In my favorite scene of the film, Mildred is at the police station with Chief Willoughby after drilling a hole into her dentist’s thumb. Mildred is spouting cop-insults, “ex-cop, ex-wife beater – what’s the difference?” But then, Willoughby accidentally coughs up blood onto Mildred’s face. We can see the shock, the worry, and the embarrassment in his eyes as he says to Mildred, “I didn’t mean to. It was an accident.” And Mildred replies, “I know, baby. I’m going to go get someone.”
Mildred sees the humanity in Chief Willoughby in this moment – she separates his evil doings as an officer and moves to tend to his needs as a human being, all while we see the painful humanity in his eyes.
Another obvious example of this is when Mildred burns down the police station. She calls the station three times to make sure nobody is inside. This is because she is attacking the group, the evil cop society, rather than the individuals that make it up.
This is why I love Mildred’s anger in the film, and I believe her anger is the perfect force to drive humans to not only show their potential, but to strive, even if only a little, to achieve it as well.
Mildred’s anger was successful because while she was glaring and obvious in her anger, she knew when to not use it. Mildred’s anger forms the entire purpose of the film, which was to show that anger can coincide with acknowledging someone’s humanity, and thus we are all people, capable of being human.
So as a cop-hating leftist, I will say that we can hate cops justifiably, and simultaneously understand each other’s views of the world. There is room for progress and there is room for growth. And while personal responsibility is not to be neglected, there is some blame to place in our society as a whole for the evil in the world. Sometimes, taking a step back to acknowledge the humanity in people can give us some hope.