Taken (Out of Context): Stop Condemning Liam Neeson

In February 2019, during an interview with The Independent to promote his movie “Cold Pursuit,” actor Liam Neeson recounted an event from over 40 years ago where his close female friend was raped by a stranger who was only identified as a black man. For about a week, he walked around public areas with a weapon and hoped that some “black bastard” would come out of a pub and initiate a fight so that Neeson could kill him. After recounting the event, Neeson said that what he did was “horrible, horrible” and that he regretted his actions.

Neeson has received major backlash and has been accused of racism. While he has gone on “Good Morning America” to clarify his story and comments and insist that he isn’t a racist, it wasn’t until a few days ago that he apologized because he “missed the point and hurt many people.”

On the surface, the rage towards Neeson might seem valid given the all too common violence towards black people enacted by white supremacist groups and police violence. However, it is extremely difficult to justify this outrage. Neeson’s actions came from an emotional reaction towards a traumatic event, and he was and still is aware that his actions were repulsive.

Countless scientific studies published by psychology publications, such as “Oxford Clinical Psychology” and “Psychology Today,” have proven that people who have experienced stressful events become more anxious, angry, and reactive to their environment. Many of these studies cite feeling unsafe at all times and seeing danger even in the most innocuous places as signs of trauma. Neeson was no different in his actions as his anger manifested into racism and caused him to “take control” of the situation by trying to kill a black man, which is understandable given the traumatic events surrounding the rape of his friend.

People outraged at him seemingly overlook Neeson’s admittance, within the same interview, that his actions back then were and still are unjustifiable. In his appearance on “Good Morning America,” he revealed that after realizing what he was doing was wrong, he sought help from a priest and has since then moved away from that mindset. Since that incident, he has allegedly neither done any racist actions nor has had any racist thoughts, and has not been accused of racism until the revelation. Neeson should be applauded for admitting his mistakes and the tough lessons he had to learn from them, and should be inspiring us to open up and talk about our own problematic pasts and moving on from them.

This isn’t to say that his actions back then weren’t racist or that his attitude wasn’t racist, because they absolutely were. Neeson’s previous claims that he wasn’t racist back then and that everything he was doing wasn’t exclusive to black people are completely untrue. Actively going to a public area with the purpose of killing any random black man to avenge the actions of one black person is absolutely horrible and racist. Rather, defenders such as myself and Trevor Noah are defending him out of the empathic understanding that his emotional outburst was a reaction to a stressful event and that he actively sought help for his behavior, which should be encouraged for even the most problematic people.

It’s a shame that so many people are rallying up in arms against Liam Neeson, because his story is, if anything, a cautionary tale for people who are going through similar situations and tell the oft-heard but true lesson that revenge won’t solve problems. Rather than spending all our energy condemning a reformed person as an unchangeable sinner, we should be condemning someone who actually deserves it.

Ashley Zhou is a second-year software engineering major. She can be reached at adzhou@uci.edu.