Debate rages over Liam Neeson race row

Liam Neeson leaving the Good Morning America studio on 5 FebruaryImage copyright
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Neeson has yet to apologise for his comments, which surfaced on Monday

Fierce debate is raging over actor Liam Neeson’s controversial admission that he once wanted to kill a random black man, with some suggesting his unguarded comments amounted to “career suicide”.

“The only question anyone in Hollywood will be asking for some time to come is ‘Liam who?'” said one newspaper pundit.

Another called his remarks “terrifying, sickening and really saddening”.

Yet he has received support elsewhere, with one columnist suggesting he was “brave” to admit “a terrible thought”.

In an interview published by The Independent on Monday, Neeson revealed that discovering someone close to him had been raped many years ago had made him want to take out his anger on a random black person.

The 66-year-old said he did not go through with any violence and expressed regret that he had reacted in such a “horrible” way.

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Media captionListen to Liam Neeson’s comments that sparked the outrage

Speaking on ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday, Neeson denied he was racist and said he hoped his remarks would start a wider conversation about racism.

That conversation shows no signs of abating and commentators had their say in the press on Wednesday.

Eva Simpson, Daily Mirror

Liam Neeson gave one of the most explosive, career-ending interviews I have ever heard when he told a journalist he wanted to murder a black person, after someone close to him was raped.

He’s now furiously back-pedalling and telling anyone who will listen that he is not racist – no doubt with one eye on the effect his comments will have at the box office.

Neeson has admitted he walked around with a cosh for a whole week trying to find someone to attack. I find this utterly terrifying, sickening and really saddening.

There is absolutely no reason to hate someone because of the colour of their skin, but sadly people do.

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Getty Images

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Natasha Richardson, pictured with Neeson in 2008, died after a skiing accident in 2009

Gary Younge, The Guardian

We should, at the very least, admire [Neeson] for his candour. For all the talk of a post-racial society and Enlightenment values, here’s a white man who admits he literally went out for a week or more looking for a black man to murder.

The man who performed a tender love scene with Viola Davis [in Widows] is the same man who fantasised about killing her husband or stepson or anyone else who looked like them.

We should, of course, not ignore Neeson’s shame in this. We all do things we regret. We are all fragile. It takes courage to admit the things that we are most ashamed of.

[But] since when did people get credit for confessing that they once thought about killing innocent people on the basis of their race and have since thought better of it?

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Media captionJohn Barnes: Liam Neeson ‘deserves a medal’

Jan Moir, Daily Mail

I don’t think Liam Neeson is a racist. However, you could certainly make a case against him, were you so inclined.

You could damn him to hell forever, because he has certainly committed a terrible sin by Hollywood standards.

The ultimate sin, perhaps. The definitive transgression. When asked a question, he tried to tell the truth.

But if we spool back, what do we find? A crucial point, which is that the young Neeson contemporaneously realised his thinking was wrong and irresponsible. He was ashamed and horrified of how he felt, both then and now.

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Twentieth Century Fox

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Neeson played Viola Davis’s husband in 2018 crime thriller Widows

Brendan O’Neill, The Spectator

Neeson, in his rage over a rape, was engaging in the horrible art of collective guilt, seeing all black men as legitimate targets for the crime of one particular black man.

That is racist and wrong. But here’s the thing: Neeson knows this. He admits the wickedness of his thinking.

He did not make this confession to promote the collective judgement of black people or race-based vengeance, but to do the opposite: to highlight how awful and corrupting such feelings are.

Yet none of this matters to the Twittermob or to those sections of the media that love nothing more than hanging out to dry individuals who have thought or said or done bad things.

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Media captionThe Independent journalist Clemence Michallon: “The gravity of his thoughts hit me”

Celia Walden, Daily Telegraph

My very first thought [on hearing the interview] was: this man has had too much therapy.

We all know that Neeson lost his wife, Natasha Richardson, in a tragic skiing accident 10 years ago. And just last month the actor lost his 35-year-old nephew, Ronan Sexton, who died of head injuries caused by an equally random accident.

So it would not be surprising if Neeson hadn’t had help from mental health experts, who probably encouraged him to let it all out.

Only, in doing that, he may have committed career suicide.

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