By Christina Schultz
Words of warning: If you have not seen Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, be warned that the plot will be discussed in this editorial post. You should also be warned that the opinions expressed here, including those about rape, belong solely to the author.
If I were the mother of a teenage girl who was “raped while dying,” the text from the first of the three eponymous billboards, would I be moved to violence? The answer is simple: Yes. In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017), the mother of dead rape victim Angela Hayes is certainly that. At first, Mildred (Frances McDormand, Oscar for Best Actress) takes out the brunt of her anger, grief and frustration on the local police because: “Still no arrests?” (billboard #2). She provokingly poses the question directly to the town’s well-liked police chief on the final billboard: “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Mildred’s three billboards and her subsequent acts of vehement hostility against the justice system that has seemingly failed her then set off a chain of events that will change the little town in many ways.
When Mildred realizes Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson in fine form), Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) and the rest of the Ebbing, Missouri police force are not the bad guys, her hatred of the unknown bad man takes over. The end of the film has Mildred and Dixon embarking on an assassination road trip to Idaho where – get this – a rapist lives. Not the rapist. But you know what? I’m going to be real honest here, and I know a lot of people will find this controversial or offensive, I agree with Mildred and her approach to rapists. Maybe I wouldn’t actually become a cold-blooded murderer or really contemplate killing someone, but if I was in her shoes, I would damn sure want to do something about it. And perhaps I wouldn’t be able to bring the defiler of my little girl to justice, whether I were on the right side of the law or not, but I could bring the rapist of someone’s little girl to justice.
Too often we ignore rape victims. Or the victims are afraid to speak out against their aggressors. We have seen it time and again. If a case does go to court, it is a messy tennis match of he-said, she-said, with the man’s reputation somehow remaining more or less intact post-trial (take Kobe Bryant, for starters). The women are portrayed as slutty, stupid bimbos who are either money hungry or just DTF or both. How is it better to deny what you did, to paint the woman in such a defamatory way, or better yet to plead ignorance when even a two-year-old knows what the words “no” and “stop” mean?
Even though we are living in the time of #MeToo and Time’s Up, why is it that so many of the women are still somehow forgotten? Why are their faces and voices not heard? Why is justice still not being served? Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby are just two, albeit major, examples but how many more men walk free? Why are women, or any victims of sexual assault, violence and abuse, still afraid to speak up? Why do we not listen to, support and help the victims even more? I am making the situation seem totally hopeless and it certainly is not all bad. Full disclosure: I am a rape victim - it is still incredibly painful to discuss - and have sought out the free and very necessary counseling services offered by Rape Victims Advocates in Chicago. There are great resources out there if you look but such programs and organizations are constantly struggling for funding. That is enough to make me want to pay for billboards all over the world...maybe my first crowdfunding campaign?
The three billboards “on a road no one goes down unless they got lost or they’re retards” (said at least twice in the film) and the woman who put them there, Mildred Hayes, vividly demonstrate what the fight could look like for things to really change. We need mouthier, fuck-all confidence. We need a better justice system. We need to get in people’s faces, perhaps slightly more respectfully than Mildred, and question their bullshit. We must call for action in rape cases, in abuse cases, in police brutality cases, in gunshot cases – the list goes on. I read the film as a call for action. The billboards tip the scales in Podunk, small town Ebbing, Missouri and this is what the country needs.