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‘Three Billboards’ Inspires Activists Around The World To Speak Out

Life imitates art: the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri has struck a nerve in our turbulent times, inspiring a new channel for activism.

Released last year, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is a dark comedy that centers around a woman who rents three billboards to voice her disenchantment with the local police for not solving the case of her daughter’s rape and murder.

Screenwriter Martin McDonagh was inspired to write the script after seeing billboards about an unsolved crime near the Georgia, Florida, and Alabama borders while he traveled across America nearly 20 years ago, .

“The rage that put a bunch of billboards like that up was palpable and stayed with me”, McDonagh said.

With the current political climate buoyed by the new presidency last year, such drastic measures seem even less farfetched.

The film itself has inspired today’s activists to channel their frustrations and aspirations in a similar way.

Last week in anticipation of the Academy Awards ceremony where Three Billboards was nominated for seven awards, a street-artist called Sabo put up three billboards in Hollywood to call on the Oscar nominees to use their platforms to fight sexual harassment. The signs read: “And the Oscar for biggest pedophile goes to…”; “We all knew and still no arrests.”; and “Name names on stage or shut the hell up!”

Three billboards outside Parkland, Florida troll Marco Rubio.


Three Billboards outside Florida

Billboards in Florida troll Marco Rubio

In prior weeks, there have been many other examples of billboards springing up to draw attention to government or institutional indifference on issues such as gun control and press freedom. After a high-school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead last month, an activist group called Avaaz put mobile billboards on trucks and drove them around Miami to call out Florida Senator Marco Rubio for his response to the shooting. They read, “Slaughtered in school”; “And still no gun control?”; “How come, Marco Rubio?”

Examples were not just limited to the U.S. In London, protesters mimicked the movie and urged authorities not to forget the fire at Grenfell tower that killed 71 people last June, leaving hundreds of residents homeless. Activists called for justice for victims and survivors, mounting their billboards on the back of lorries. The signs read: ’71 dead. And still no arrests? How come?’

The star of the film, Frances McDormand, couldn’t be more thrilled about the film’s impact and inspiration for change and speaking out.

Accepting the award for Best Actress for the film at the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) last month, she said: “I want to say that I appreciate a well-organized act of civil disobedience, and I am thrilled that activists all over the world have been inspired by the set decoration of the Three Billboards in Martin’s film. And [who] have taken to the streets, and let it be a part of the positive public discourse that’s happening.”

She was also among the most politically outspoken of all the winners at the Oscars this past Sunday. Accepting the award for Best Actress for her performance, she asked for every woman who was nominated in every category that evening to stand up in the audience. McDormand then plainly declared to the room that they all had stories to tell, and for everyone else to take note and seriously consider working with them. She ended her speech by stating the term “inclusion rider”, referring to a clause that actors can put into their contracts to ensure gender and racial equality in hiring on movie sets.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri also won an Oscar on Sunday for Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor. It swept many other awards leading up to the Academy Awards including the Golden Globe award for Best Picture and BAFTA for best film.


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