As most critics and artificial intelligence predicted, Sam Rockwell won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday night. Rockwell was awarded for his portrayal of Officer Jason Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Despite his victory, Rockwell’s character has been polarizing among critics and movie lovers. While some have praised his portrayal of a deeply flawed, extremely racist cop as a paean to nuance, others have decried the character as an irresponsible depiction of important social issues. A common criticism was that in the film, Dixon’s problematic characteristics were eventually overlooked in service of giving him a redemption arc.
According to the detractors, it’s not wrong to have a racist cop in a movie, but the way the film redeemed his character without interrogating his history of racism and violence was a problem. Perhaps the best encapsulation of the criticism of Rockwell’s character comes from a satirical article in McSweeney’s that lists 17 more billboards that should have been included in the film. Number 8: “NOT SURE BRUTALLY RACIST COPS DESERVE REDEMPTIVE STORYLINES.”
To ameliorate their displeasure, some people on Twitter decided to reframe Rockwell’s victory by awarding him for one of his past roles. Turns out he was in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is just about the best fun fact one could ever learn about Sam Rockwell.
Regardless of your opinion on Rockwell’s character, he’s an extremely prolific actor who was won over many fans during his career. Overall, it seems like Rockwell’s critics appreciate his acting, but not his role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
And some, like Sean Fennessey at The Ringer, hope that now that the Oscar has been awarded, we can all go back to liking Rockwell without making any concurrent political statements. We’ll see.