Well this is something no one could have ever seen coming. During possibly the worst interview in history while promoting his latest “middle-aged guy kicks all the ass” action movie, Cold Pursuit, Liam Neeson talked about revenge, and his once-upon-a-time desire to exact it on a black man. If you just spit your drink across your desk, don’t worry, you’re not alone. This story broke from The Independent and drinks across the world were spat across countless desks as the internet became the embodiment of the confused baby meme. Liam Neeson said WHAT, we screeched, records scratching and glasses shattering in slow-motion on the floor. Did Liam Neeson just admit to wanting to racistly murder someone?
Yes, he did. The full context is that while promoting yet another revenge flick, he talked about seeking revenge himself as a young man, after learning that some close to him had been sexually assaulted. He said, “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 gestures 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.”
Neeson’s Cold Pursuit co-star Tom Bateman sums it up best: “Holy sh-t.”
This is a perfect intersection of several things, chief among them toxic masculinity—his concern and upset for the survivor could only be expressed through an intended act of violence—white privilege, and racism. It’s an astounding example of the devaluation of black lives that any random person going about their day could stand in for one specific person who did something evil—it is a view of an entire race not only as interchangeable, guilty by association, guilty by mere existence. What he is describing is a hate crime. Seeking to hurt someone—to punish them—just because they look a certain way or belong to certain group, is a hate crime. Liam Neeson is admitting to wanting to commit a hate crime.
But he also regrets it? He went on to say, “It’s awful. […] But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the f-ck are you doing,’ you know?” O…kay? He brought this story up to talk about the pointlessness of revenge. It’s not nearly as good an illustration as his experiences living in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, but he’s trying to make a connection between his own experiences and his thoughts on revenge. Does that make it better? I…don’t think it does. I don’t know if we cancel Liam Neeson the way Mark Wahlberg, actually convicted of a hate crime, is cancelled, but I also don’t think you can just whistle past it like nothing happened.
Because the interview actually gets weirder, when the writer, Clemence Michallon, speaks to a psychologist to try and contextualize Neeson’s comments. Actually, she first contacts the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to talk about the secondhand effect of sexual violence, then she talks to a professor at University College London. Michallon realizes Neeson has said something damning, and is carrying a lot of water to make sure we don’t misunderstand him: privilege at work. And what is there, really, to misunderstand? Being upset after finding out something devastating has happened to someone you care about is understandable. Going out and hoping to do a hate crime is…less so. Especially in light of the recent attack on Jussie Smollett, serving as a reminder that not only has hate crime never really gone away, it’s actually making a comeback.
And this is not just some dumb sh-t Liam Neeson SAID, he actually went out and TRIED TO DO this, carrying a “cosh” around and hoping to meet just any black man so he could beat him up. He tells this story and talks about revenge and realizing it’s pointless, but he never says anything about also realizing how racist his actions were, and naming the racism, and that, separate from a fruitless desire for revenge, those actions and the feelings that motivated them are worth regretting. I would love to hear your thoughts on Liam Neeson and where he’s at now as a public persona. I am just so flummoxed he would even bring this up at a PRESS JUNKET, I can barely process the rest of it. He meanwhile seems to have processed some thoughts on revenge but it’s unclear whether or not he’s reflected on the prejudices that drove him.