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Activists Tap ‘Three Billboards’ Messaging for Grenfell Justice and Gun Control

The fiery spirit of Mildred Hayes, the headstrong seeker of justice played by actress Frances McDormand in Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-nominated film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” is alive and well in the hearts of activists on both sides of the Atlantic.

A trio of mobile billboards has been deployed around London seeking answers in the September 2017 Grenfell Tower public housing blaze that claimed 71 lives. Spinning off the eponymous red and black facades in McDonagh’s film, the mobile billboards — created by the Justice 4 Grenfell activist organization — read: “71 DEAD.” “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?” “HOW COME?”

Meanwhile, a similar display has unfolded in the Miami area after a gunman killed 17 people in the latest stateside school shooting on Feb. 14. Organized by online activist network Avaaz, these three billboards call out Senator Marco Rubio for his inaction in curbing gun violence: “SLAUGHTERED IN SCHOOL” “AND STILL NO GUN CONTROL?” “HOW COME, MARCO RUBIO?” The truck-mounted billboards were spotted near Rubio’s Doral, Fla., office on Friday.

In McDonagh’s film, Mildred seeks answers in the case of her raped and murdered daughter with a trio of signs calling out the local sheriff, played by Woody Harrelson. It has become a controversial contender this season, deemed tone-deaf in some quarters for its handling of racism.

“I think some of [the criticism] comes from the idea that Sam [Rockwell]’s character is redeemed at the end of the film, and I don’t think he is,” McDonagh told Variety in his first address of the controversy last month. “The film isn’t about simple heroes and villains, and in no way does he become a hero in it. Part of the whole idea of the story is, ‘Who are the heroes and who are the villains and is anyone really that heroic?’ … The idea that there’s hope in a story like this, even with characters as despicable as Sam’s, I thought that was an interesting thing to explore.”

Despite the controversy, “Three Billboards” received top honors from regional film critics in Hawaii, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and London, as well as the Screen Actors Guild’s ensemble prize and the Golden Globe for best drama.

McDonagh’s film was ultimately nominated for seven Oscars including best picture, actress, supporting actor, and original screenplay. On Sunday, the film will compete for nine British Academy awards including best film, best British film, and best director.

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