2017 saw a bunch of good Hollywood movies creating an impact on audience. One among them was undoubtedly ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,’ which had ‘three billboards’ in spotlight along with central protagonist
The recently declared 90th Academy Awards saw, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won two awards- Best Actress – Drama (Frances McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell). It also won Bafta Film Awards 2018 including Best Film, Best British Film and Best Actress for Frances McDormand.
Directed by writer/director, Martin McDonagh, who previously helmed ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths,’
‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ tells the tale of Mildred Hayes , a divorced wo man searching for justice for the violent death of her daughter, Angela. After seven months when the police led by Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Harrelson) do nothing about the crime, or arrest anyone, Mildred uses three billboards located on the outskirts of town to point out the lack of inaction from the side of Police.
The three billboards in the film read in sequence, “Raped While Dying”, “And Still No Arrests?”, and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” The billboards upset the people and soon a local news channel takes up the news. The three billboards had red colour in background and text in black capital letters. There was nothing else. Yet it was even more captivating. Underlying the fact that billboards are one of the most effective medium to catch the attention of people (here to catch the attention of authorities), the central character takes up the billboards. The movie also shows how it appears in the night with all its red colour which could seriously upset all those who catch the view of the billboard. The central character of this movie also wants the people and authorities to feel so.
Even though the movie is a work of fiction, some true events led director to make this film. “I saw something similar to what we see on our billboards like 17 years ago. I was on a bus going through one of the states – I don’t even know now which one it was. Somewhere down in the Georgia, Florida, Alabama corner. It was this similarly statement, sort of calling out the police for not solving a crime. That’s all I saw. That stayed in my mind for like 10 years before I decided that it was a mother who had taken these things out. It all became fiction for me – but it was based on a couple of actual billboards,” says Martin McDonagh.
Leave aside the story, our focus is the medium the central protagonist choose to express her discontent over police inaction- Billboards. No other medium could have given her so much exposure as she did with them. Even in the TV or Newspaper, the matter could have got lost in other news and articles. But a billboard (here three) combined with an unusual idea gave her the desired result. There is a scene in the movie whereby someone burn out those billboards as he/she is upset with it. We are not here to scrutinise the right or wrong of that act but only to tell that the billboard had hit the ‘target.’
Billboards influenced by the movie
After the movie become a hit, several activists have chosen the mode of billboards and LED screens fitted on vehicles to bring several things before the authorities.
On February 15, 2018, the campaign group Justice4Grenfell, an advocacy group created in response to the Grenfell Tower fire (London, England), hired three vans with electronic screens in a protest against perceived inaction in response to the fire. The vans were driven around London, and displayed messages in the style of the billboards in the film: ‘71 Dead’, ‘And Still No Arrests?’, ‘How Come?’ They explored the possibility of LED walls mounted on the vehicle for it. Three billboards—identical in colour, and design to those in the film—were used to carry their message across London. As the billboards made their way through the city, passersby captured photos of the powerful stunt, reported a prominent website in London.
In response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that took place on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida, activist group Avaaz had three vans circle Florida senator Marco Rubio’s offices displaying ‘Slaughtered in School’, ‘And Still No Gun Control?’, ‘How Come, Marco Rubio?’
On 15 February 2018, the movement #OccupyJustice set up three billboards and a number of banners in Malta, marking the fourmonth anniversary of the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The billboards bore the text ‘A Journalist Killed. No Justice.’, ‘A Country Robbed. No Justice.’ and ‘No Resignations. No Justice.’ The authorities removed the billboards the following day, stating that they were illegal. The government was criticised for this move and a day after their removal, activists laid down banners with similar text near Auberge de Castille, the Office of the Prime Minister.
Both McDormand and McDonagh have responded positively to the protests, with McDonagh saying “You couldn’t ask for anything more than for an angry film to be adopted by protests.” The central idea behind the movie that is to use billboards to gain attention of the authorities is now becoming a trend. Billboards apart from a tool to advertise has now turned to be an effective tool for ‘activism.’ The influence of billboards on the public is proven through all this movements. Undeniably, the billboards continue to dominate in the most effective tools to reach out the masses. In other words it is the power of advertising used to bring justice. Billboards are undoubtedly the most powerful tool for advertising