Why Liam Neeson’s racist comments reappear on ‘Atlanta’
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This week’s episode of Atlanta takes its typical pop culture commentary to a new level of subversion. In the episode titled “New Jazz”, an old controversy is particularly hackneyed when Paperboi stumbles into a royal but seedy nightclub in Amsterdam where someone is drinking dressed as a Dalmatian surprises no one. Then, after being surprised by some cheeky comments from the people he’s with, Paperboi stumbles into a separate room where he meets someone you’d never expect. Atlanta: Liam Neeson.
Neeson’s conversation with Paperboi quickly goes from cordial to suspicious. After Paperboi tells him he got into the club through a local, Neeson sarcastically asks if the local strangled a fan or had sex with a teenager. Then, just when you’re about to ask what’s wrong with Liam Neeson, Paperboi glances at a napkin with the club’s name in gold letters: Cancel Club.
Brilliantly, Atlanta featured a physical venue where all of the society-cancelled people could have a good time without being judged for their reprehensible behavior. At the Cancel Club, someone called a woman’s room 106 & Park because she’s been known to have sex with rappers and was met with laughter instead of derision. But why has Liam Nesson frequented this physical manifestation of one level of hell for Dante’s Inferno? It doesn’t take too long to find out that Neeson is here for a controversy he sparked three years ago regarding rape, revenge and racism.
What was the Liam Neeson racism controversy?
In a 2019 interview with The Independent promote your movie cold pursuit, an action-thriller film where the character of Neeson seeks revenge for the murder of his son. Neeson has owned the parental revenge hero movie genre ever since he warned a kidnapper about his “peculiar set of skills” in Taken in 2008. So it would be safe to assume that someone who has done interviews for revenge movies for over a decade might reflexively spring from media-formed responses. But, for some reason, he really wanted to convey the overriding need for revenge by recounting how he had sought deadly retribution for the rape of a friend of his.
After the unidentified woman told him she didn’t know who the person was, Neeson’s detective skills led him to ask her, “What color were they?” Once she informed him that the rapist was black, Neeson admitted to going into a rage fueled by rage. If what Neeson said he did after discovering this information was in one of his revenge movies, no one would believe him. “I roamed the neighborhoods with a cosh, hoping someone would approach me – I’m ashamed to say – and did that for maybe a week, hoping a ‘black bastard’ would come out out of a pub and attack me about something, you know? So I can… kill him,” Neeson said in the interview.
As you’d expect, Neeson’s racially insensitive comments elicited heated reactions from those who vilified him. Some people pointed out how Neeson exposed toxic white privilege. The New York premiere of cold pursuit, scheduled a week after Neeson’s comments were published, was reportedly canceled at the last minute due to the controversy. He tried to clarify hello america the day after the Independent interview that he was not racist and that the incident happened 40 years ago. He said he only mentioned it because The Independent journalist Clémence Michallon asked how he tapped into the feeling of revenge to play his role in cold pursuit. He also took a surprisingly defensive veiled shot at his critics while explaining how he intended to uncover the story to address a human experience we all go through. “We all pretend that we’re all politically correct in this country…in mine too. You scratch the surface sometimes, and you find out about this racism and bigotry, and it’s there,” Neeson said on hello america.
Did Liam Neeson apologize for Atlanta?
Not really. On the show, Neeson delivers the classic half-committed apology where he only apologizes “if I hurt people.” As he did in the hello america interview, he expresses unfortunate shock at having these feelings of racially-motivated revenge. His usual low, gravelly voice also comes across as sincerely thoughtful as he explains to Paper Boi that he told the story to the world and “thought people knowing who I once was made it clear who I am; who I’ve become. “.
For a second, Neeson lulls you into a false sense of empathy for a man willing to admit his past wrongdoings with a believable level of recklessness in his confession. But then reality takes a back seat from Atlanta mark of surrealism when Neeson corrects Paper Boi after the rapper says he’s glad Neeson doesn’t hate black people. “I can’t stand you all. Now I feel this because you tried to ruin my career – didn’t succeed, mind you. I’m sure one day I’ll get over it, but until then, we are mortal enemies.”
For Neeson on the show, the one thing he learned from the whole three-year ordeal is “the best and the worst about being white is that we have nothing to learn if we don’t want it”. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that Paper Boi had fallen asleep for 10 hours and was probably dreaming about the whole Cancel Club experience.
Was Neeson seeking absolution through parody? Was he hiding his true feelings in plain sight on a show where cartoons were rampant? Or did he just want to be part of Donald Glover’s universe in every way possible? Whatever the reason, Neeson just delivered Atlanta one of his most shocking scenes from season 3 that will be talked about again, for better or (probably) for worse.
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