On Liam Neeson: has media Taken the wrong track?

An older white male film star using a slur against a person of a different gender, race, or sexual orientation is sadly common in the news today. Liam Neeson (Taken, Schindler’s List) has disappointingly joined the list of stars that have lost their lustre due to these kinds of remarks. However, the regularity of these events and their aftermath raises the question of what the role of the media is- and whether ‘#cancelling’ is really the most progressive way forward.

Thanks to the bravery of those who spoke out and began media campaigns such as #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite, the systems of privilege, sexism and racism behind the bright lights of Hollywood have started to come down. Once loved performers have found there is a media spotlight they don’t enjoy being under so much, and this purging of Hollywood’s powerful has opened the doors to the possibility of a far more equal future. According to one article from NYTimes, ‘nearly half the men who have been replaced were succeeded by women’. This progress is great, and a welcome change to Hollywood. One hashtag, however, could be seen as far less progressive, and could be damaging the media industry as a whole- ‘#cancelled’.

‘#cancelled’ refers to the act of retracting all acknowledgement and support of a person after they have said or done something problematic or harmful in the public eye. They are collectively shunned, their work binned, gotten rid of, branded and removed. Gone. Cancelled. While the Weinsteins and Spaceys of Hollywood should be #cancelled and locked away for good, there is a huge difference between the scale of their crimes and Neeson’s. Surely this means he should face a different fate?

To catch up, Neeson revealed in an interview that 40 years ago he spent a week’s nights roaming the streets looking for a ‘black bastard’ to kill after his friend was raped by a black man. it therefore wasn’t a surprise when twitter began #cancelling Neeson. In no way am I saying Neeson should be let off the hook- he deliberately went out with the intention of hurting a minority, highlighting how disturbingly deeply the white supremacist trope of the ‘black brute’ versus the ‘helpless woman’ appears to have permeated society. He should be held accountable for the racist view that one person should pay for another’s crimes simply because they share the same skin colour. On the other hand, #cancelling him teaches no one anything.

In a time of Trump’s America and migrant crises, a time of increasing disparity and separatism, the role of media should be to focus on education as well as justice. #Cancelling leads to more isolation, which serves only to breed further hate. Some celebrity figures such as Whoopi Goldberg have begun to see this and have given more understanding responses to the scandal. The black feminist icon reminds us that while a celebrity, Neeson is also a human being. “You can’t be surprised that somebody whose loved one is attacked is angry and wants to go out and attack” Goldberg says, adding he “realised it was too dark” and went and “got himself help”.

Celebrities who have said things they shouldn’t have are a better inspiration for us when they learn from their mistakes, grow and become better people. #cancelling gives no opportunity for growth, and makes us, the public, guilty of forgetting celebrities mess up just as all of us do. A true apology from Neeson is what we need, and the media needs to fill its role and show an example of kindness in accepting it.

Yes, bring the wrongdoers to trial for their crimes, but remember to set an example- showing the ability to forgive and understand as demonstrated by Goldberg highlights a brighter, more educated future for media.

Barnaby Howe

Image credit: nme.com / Getty Images