Liam Neeson’s Racism Also Sees Him Take Centre Stage Of A Woman’s #MeToo Story

The Taken actor has proven you can be racist and sexist in one fell swoop, now he needs to prove he can atone...

Raymond Hall / Contributor

by Sophie Wilkinson |
Updated on

Liam Neeson’s claim that he wanted to kill any black man in revenge for a friend’s rape by one, singular black man has caused a huge backlash. While the usual commentators have popped up to claim it wasn’t a racist act, because, hey, Neeson was talking about something that happened years ago and he didn’t actually kill anyone, woo-hoo!, the controversy has led to the cancellation of the red carpet at the premiere of his new film.

Cold Pursuit is one of the many revenge thrillers Neeson has been typecast in ever since Taken first stormed the box office, and during a 17-minute interview at a press junket, Neeson, seemingly unchallenged, admitted an shockingly racist past. Asked for his own experience of revenge-seeking, he told The Independent: ‘There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions…I’ll tell you a story. This is true.’

He explained that, years ago, when he was overseas, someone close to him was raped. ‘She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,' he said, 'But my immediate reaction was…I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.’

‘I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestured air quotes with his fingers] “black bastard” would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.’

While telling the anecdote, he acknowledged its grimness, declaring: ‘It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,’ he says. ‘And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.’

Blaming all black men for the crimes of one black man is racist, and getting ready to commit fatal violence to any black man for the crimes of one is racist. Repeating this story didn't need to be racist. However, if Neeson's racism is long behind him, as black writer Gary Younge put it, where’s the evidence? Neeson can go on live TV and backtrack all he likes, claiming ‘I was trying to show honour, to stand up for my dear friend in this terribly medieval fashion’.

But does Neeson work to undo racist myths and stereotypes like the ones he once believed? Does he demand of producers that his black co-stars get a decent fee? Does he speak out about the need for increased diversity in Hollywood? These aren’t made up demands plucked from PC culture’s rainbow-coloured box of hand-wringing woke-ness - other Hollywood stars do all these and more without needing incentive of undoing a bigoted past to do them - these are simply things Neeson has yet to do.

Neeson also, it should be noted, hasn't explained why he took ownership of a woman's story, as if his quest for revenge was more important than her survival. She has since died, and Neeson has, in a small moment of respect, not named her. However, she will never get to tell her story from her side, certainly not as publicly as Neeson has.

Painting himself, even in his apology, as the 'primal' hyper-masculine protector of a woman’s honour, Neeson tries to push the blame away from himself, as if bigoted violence is just something men do, like standing up to wee or growing beards. Does he not realise, though, that this 'primal urge' defense is the root of a toxic masculinity that, paradoxically, allows rapists and their apologists to convince themselves that rape, another sort of male-inflicted violence, is just the natural order of things?

There is no script for a survivor of such entitled violence, no pre-written how-to flow-chart of getting through it. So we have no absolute idea what the rape victim wanted to have happened when she told Neeson her story. Maybe she wanted him to comfort her. Maybe she wanted him to help her report it to the police. Maybe she wanted him to help everything be as normal as possible. Maybe she simply wanted him to believe her. What seems utterly doubtful, though, is that she would have wanted Neeson, someone she trusted enough to tell about this damaging event, to spend a week on the hunt for some random black guy to maul into smithereens.

Besides, if the natural response was for women - and men - to want scalps from their rapists - some do, of course - #MeToo would look a lot less like the collective empowerment of women - and men - carefully telling their stories, and a lot more like the witch-hunt none other than Mr Liam Neeson has gone on record calling it.

Last year, Neeson declared: ’There’s some people, famous people, being suddenly accused of touching some girl’s knee, or something, and suddenly they’re being dropped from their programme, or something.’

He told theLate Late Showon RTE that the #MeToo movement is ’a bit of a witch-hunt’, before suggesting that his one-time co-star Dustin Hoffman, who was alleged to have exposed himself to a minor and sexually assaulting and harassing multiple women, was simply indulging in ‘childhood stuff’.

We’re constantly told by society that women can’t have it both ways - we can’t dress or be or act or talk or behave a certain way and be entitled to our right to consent. How come Liam Neeson gets to have it both ways, then? How can he call #MeToo, a collection of brave and responsibly told stories of trauma and survival, a witch-hunt, and in his own attempt to broach the same issue appropriate someone else's pain to deliver an anecdote so sloppy, appalling and disregarding of the victim’s needs that it becomes, instead, a tale of racist lynching?

While Neeson's making his mind up, we have to know his ideas and those of his many, willfully ignorant defenders, aren't going anywhere soon. What needs to happen now is a collective movement to lead by example and do everything Neeson hasn't here - challenging negative stereotypes of black men, of all women and of all victims of sexual violence. Who needs a red carpet when we can clear the red mist from each others' eyes?

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