Cowboy Cops and Black Lives Matter: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the Great White West[ern]

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-2931.10.06

Keywords:

race, Black Lives Matter, the Western, Missouri, the Frontier Myth

Abstract

The racial framework of Martin McDonagh’s 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri rests at the intersection of three persistent cultural myths—the Frontier Myth, the hero cowboy myth and the myth of white supremacy. There has been much criticism of the portrayal of black characters in the film, and particularly the lack of significant black characters in a film that sports a solid undercurrent of racial politics. While the black characters in the film occupy a small amount of screen time, this paper argues that the film’s treatment of black characters, including their absence, puts on display the cultural dysfunction of racial politics in the US, especially in rural America, and particularly in Missouri. The film’s subversion of the cowboy hero instead reveals the disturbing reality of the Frontier Myth and its dependence on racism and white supremacy for validation. In its unmasking of myth, Three Billboards challenges the illusion of a glorious Western past that never existed and at the same time supports racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Author Biography

Debbie Olson, Missouri Valley College, Marshall, MO

Debbie Olson earned her PhD from Oklahoma State University in English/Screen Studies. Her research interests include images of African and African American children in film and television, childhood studies, cultural studies, African film and New Hollywood Cinema. She is the author of Black Children in Hollywood Cinema (Palgrave, 2017) and editor of The Child in World Cinema (2018), The Child in Post-apocalyptic Cinema (2015) and many others. She has co-edited, with Dr. Adrian Schober (Australia) Children and Youth in American Television (2018) and Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg (2017). She has written numerous book chapters, most recently “On the Innocence of Beasts: Child Soldiers in Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation” in African Childhoods, edited by Charles Quist-Adade, De-Valera Botchway and Awo Abena Amoa Sarpong (2019). She is currently at work on her next book, Counterculture Cinema: Youth in Transition.

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Published

2020-11-24

How to Cite

Olson, D. (2020). Cowboy Cops and Black Lives Matter: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the Great White West[ern]. Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture, (10), 93-117. https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-2931.10.06