Actor Liam Neeson fights to recover after sharing racist episode

File: Liam Neeson's unvarnished words sent shockwaves across the media landscape, and while he went on to apologise, far from everyone was satisfied.

File: Liam Neeson's unvarnished words sent shockwaves across the media landscape, and while he went on to apologise, far from everyone was satisfied.

AFP

NEW YORK - After sparking a scandal by recalling a racist episode from his distant past, actor Liam Neeson is now battling to save his career -- a task experts predict will be difficult but not impossible.

More than 40 years ago, Neeson recently told The Independent of London, he was enraged to learn of a friend's rape by a man she said was black. 

In a candid interview, he recounted how he spent days roaming city streets, a bludgeon in hand, looking for a "black bastard" he could "kill."

His unvarnished words sent shockwaves across the media landscape, and while he went on to apologise -- insisting he was "not racist" -- far from everyone was satisfied.

In the flareup of reaction on social media, some posters demanded that Neeson's scenes in the upcoming film "Men in Black: International" be reshot with another actor.

"Don't be surprised if someone doesn't want to work with you," actress Regina King told The Independent.

But several crisis management specialists said the television interview Neeson gave the day after the controversy erupted was, at least, a good start.

"In a world where media is instant, you need to move quicker than ever before. Today's world where social media is omnipresent, you have to be very, very, very hyper-conscious," said Ronn Torossian, founder of the 5W PR agency.

"He needs to continue to apologise and outright say that he made a mistake, rather than trying to defend his words or bring in more context. That's the only way to save his image," Torossian said.

"Actions speak louder than words," said Steve Jaffe of Jaffe & Company, adding that Neeson needed to "be an active participant" in dialogue about racism.

But that strategy, he and other experts caution, can work only if it is perceived as sincere and not opportunistic.

"It's easier to hear an apology from a good person than it is from somebody who's just trying to save their job," said Jaffe, who has worked with Bill Clinton.

- Others who came back -

For now, none of Neeson's current projects appears threatened by the scandal.

Several actors and directors have come to his defense, including black actress Whoopi Goldberg, who said on ABC's "The View," "You can't be surprised that somebody whose loved one is attacked is angry and wants to go out and attack." 

Actor and director Mel Gibson is cited by many as the ultimate example of a resurrection.

Gibson, who has made homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic remarks and was accused of domestic violence, was in 2006 considered persona non grata in Hollywood.

But after almost a decade in the desert, he returned with a flourish in 2016 and is again accepted as part of the Hollywood family.

Actor Gary Oldman and rapper Kanye West have also seen their share of controversy but remained part of the scene.

Cabosky cited the case of Kevin Hart, who late last year withdrew as host of the upcoming Oscar ceremony after being caught up in controversy over earlier homophobic remarks.

"His film 'The Upside' came out a few weeks later and massively overperformed," Cabosky said. 

"Assessing actual damage to a star can be complicated and complex."

Source
AFP