I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at a press screening in the early days of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. At the time, a movie about a mother who puts up three accusatory billboards on the road leading up to her small town to shame the police into continuing to pursue her daughter's rapist and killer already seemed alarmingly relevant. Since then however, there have been so many new accusations against prominent men in Hollywood and beyond that I've lost track. Now, the film seems to go beyond relevance — it's a warning.
Three Billboards, which hit cinemas last Friday, is many things: it's a dark comedy, it's an indictment of police brutality; it's a crime caper; it's a moving look at legacy and regrets. But first and foremost, it's a story about Mildred (Frances McDormand), a mother and resident of Ebbing, Missouri, who is determined to get the police to renew their interest in the investigation of her daughter's sexual assault and death several months prior. To this end, she hires out three billboards on the road into town, condemning the police chief (Woody Harrelson) and his perceived inaction. It's a spectacle, a stunt meant to bring attention to her case. And to a certain extent, it works. Local news descends on the town, shining a light onto a sordid and violent case that had nevertheless been forgotten as it gave way to fresher news.
It's a tale that reflects how we as a society deal with news coverage. *Insert crazy event here*; people are shocked; headlines turn into activism, hashtags, and outraged tweets. It feels like things will really change, that there will be a national reckoning; but slowly, almost imperceptibly, the news cycle moves on, and we start all over again.
As the allegations against prominent men keep pouring out, we've heard a lot about the changes that need to happen in Hollywood to combat the toxic male culture that's embedded at an institutional level. Since October 13, when Alyssa Milano first launched the hashtag so that women could speak out about their own Harvey Weinsteins, #MeToo has been used 2.5 million times on Twitter. Celebrities have shared their personal stories of sexual assault. Kevin Spacey has been cut out and replaced in a major film. Louis C.K.'s new film has been cancelled. It seems like we're on the brink of real societal change.
And yet, I fear that we've been down this road before. And we have. In 2014, #YesAllWomen sought to shed light on the magnitude of of women who have experienced sexual harassment or violence. In less than a week, it had been used 1.2 million times. After Donald Trump's "grab them by the pussy" tape leaked in October 2016, women took to social media once more to voice their pain. He was still elected president. The world moved on to other things.
It's been a little over five weeks since The New York Times first published its report about Weinstein's abuses of power. Over 10 Hollywood men have been accused of sexual harassment or assault since then, not to mention those in other fields, like tech or media. In fact, Weinstein's actions have now almost faded into the background. That's the problem that Three Billboards warns us about. As our horror fades into complacency when faced with an overwhelming problem, who will be there to remind us? Who will put up our billboards?