Flop of the Month: Liam Neeson admission sparks racism row

Liam Neeson caused a ferocious media storm with his comments on race made during a press junket for his new film. From a solely PR perspective, the incident was ill-conceived, avoidable and potentially career-damaging.

Liam Neeson on Good Morning America (©LORENZO BEVILAQUA/ABC/GETTY IMAGES)
Liam Neeson on Good Morning America (©LORENZO BEVILAQUA/ABC/GETTY IMAGES)

Interviewed by The Independent, the 66-year-old actor was asked about his character in the film Cold Pursuit – who seeks retribution for his murdered son – and how he approaches anger.

Neeson revealed that decades ago, he had roamed the streets with a cosh, determined to find a random "black bastard" to kill, after someone close to him was raped by a black man. "Holy shit," was the immediate response of co-star Tom Bateman, who was sitting beside him. Clearly Bateman – and, one assumes, the PR reps – had no idea Neeson would tell this story. Perhaps he wanted to break the tedium often associated with junkets and offer something genuinely newsworthy.

Neeson succeeded on that front, but the backlash was swift. Many derided his clearly racist actions and the New York premiere for Cold Pursuit was cancelled.

An interview on Good Morning America – in which he denied being racist and discussed the context of sectarian bigotry in Ireland - did little to quell the uproar. Some defended Neeson, commending his honesty on a seldom-discussed topic.

It’s clear that the episode was, at best, hugely disruptive to the movie’s publicity drive. The impact on Neeson’s career, however, could be far longer-lasting.

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