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This week’s episode of Atlanta takes its signature pop culture commentary to a subversive new level. In “New Jazz,” a 2019 controversy is given a special twist when Paperboi stumbles into a regal but seedy Amsterdam nightclub. The first clue that something is wrong: someone drinking at the bar while dressed as a Dalmatian comes as no surprise. After getting enough pissed off, Paperboi falls into a separate room where he encounters someone you’d probably never expect to appear on. 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. While you’re probably wondering what’s wrong with Liam Neeson, Paperboi glances at a napkin with the club’s name in gold letters: Cancel Club.
Brilliantly, Atlanta manifests a twisted “safe space” where all society-cancelled people can have a good time without being judged for their reprehensible behavior. (For example, someone calls a woman’s room 106 & Park because she’s been known to have sex with rappers – only she’s greeted with laughter instead of derision.) But why is Liam Neseon attending this 2022 manifestation of one of the hellish circles of Dante? It doesn’t take long to find out. Neeson is here for a controversy he sparked three years ago that involves rape, revenge and racism.
What was the Liam Neeson racism controversy?
In 2019, Neeson gave an interview to The Independent promote your movie cold pursuit, an action thriller in which the character of Neeson seeks revenge for the murder of his son. Neeson has almost individually owned the parental revenge hero movie genre since showing off his “peculiar set of skills” in 2008. Taken. You might think it’s safe to assume that someone who’s done interviews for revenge movies for over a decade might instinctively spring up a series of bland, uncontroversial, media-formed responses. Instead, Neeson emphasized the overriding need for revenge as he recounted how he once sought revenge for a friend’s rape.
When Neeson learned that his friend didn’t know who his attacker was, he apparently asked, “What color were they?” When she informed him that the rapist was black, Neeson admitted The Independent that he went into a racing-fueled rage. “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 of a pub and attack me about something, you know? So I could…kill him,” Neeson said.
As you’d expect, Neeson’s racially insensitive comments sparked controversy, with some saying Neeson flaunted 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 his comments about hello america the day after the Independent interview, saying he was not racist and that the incident happened 40 years ago.
Neeson added that he only mentioned the incident because The Independent journalist Clémence Michallon asked how he channeled feelings of revenge for his role in cold pursuit. He also became defensive while taking veiled shots at his detractors in an upcoming hello america interview, saying he revealed the story as a way to address what he saw as a more universal experience for most people. “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,” he said.
Did Liam Neeson apologize for Atlanta?
Not exactly. On the show, Neeson gives a half-committed apology where he only apologizes “if I hurt people”. As he did in the hello america interview, he expresses his shock and regret for his racist revenge fantasies. His usual low, gravelly voice also takes on a more serious and thoughtful tone as he explains to Paper Boi why he told the story and that he “felt that people knowing who I once was made it clear who I am; who I have become.”
The scene almost manages to lull viewers into a false sense of empathy for a man willing to admit his past misdeeds. But then reality once again takes precedence over surrealism. Neeson corrects Paper Boi after the rapper says he’s glad Neeson doesn’t hate black people. “I can’t stand all of you. Now I feel this because you tried to ruin my career – you failed, mind you,” he said. “I’m sure one day I’ll get over it, but until then we’re mortal enemies.”
For Neeson’s character on the show, the takeaway from the past three years is that “the best and the worst about being white is that we have nothing to learn if we don’t want to.” At the end of the episode, Paper Boi wakes up – it turns out he’s been asleep for 10 hours. The Cancel Club was just a dream.
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, he just delivered Atlanta one of his most shocking and memorable scenes that will have him – and his story – talked about again, for better or for worse.
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