Neeson Says He's Not Racist as He Explains Decades-Old Revenge Fantasy

In an interview on "Good Morning America," Robin Roberts told the actor that he should understand that black people feel pain for being blamed for crimes they didn't commit because of their skin color

The premiere of Liam Neeson's newest film has been abruptly canceled amid fallout from the actor's comments about decades-old thoughts he had about killing a black person.

Organizers of the New York premiere of "Cold Pursuit" informed reporters of the cancellation Tuesday afternoon, a couple hours before it was supposed to start.

The cancellation comes hours after Neeson appeared on "Good Morning America" to address his comments, telling interviewer Robin Roberts that he is not a racist as he explained a "terrible, medieval" impulse he had to lash out at black people decades ago to avenge the rape of a friend, and acknowledged the hurt he caused when he first told a journalist about it.

Neeson's interview on "Good Morning America" were his first comments about his violent thoughts amid a brewing backlash. He'd told an Irish newspaper that, after being told the attacker was black, he "went up and down areas with a cosh (stick or truncheon)" hoping a black person "would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him."

The anecdote, which Neeson didn't elaborate on in the interview or comment on after it was published, was widely denounced as racist. British journalist Ash Sarkar said on Twitter that the interview "saddening" for reinforcing "the idea that people of colour, and especially black men, are collectively responsible for the misdeeds of one."

On Tuesday, Neeson explained what happened when his friend, now deceased, told him nearly 40 years ago about her rape. He said he went out "maybe four or five times" in a black neighborhood looking for someone to fight him before he realized what he was doing and sought help from a priest and some friends and by "power walking."

"I'm not racist," Neeson insisted, explaining that he was raised in Northern Ireland during the decades of violence known as the Troubles, when Catholics and Protestants killed each other for revenge. He said he asked his friend for more identifying details than simply her attacker's race, and that he would have sought revenge against "an Irish or a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian" if she'd said the attacker was from either of those countries.

"I was trying to show honor to my– stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion. And I'm a fairly intelligent guy and that's why it kind of shocked me," Neeson said, adding, "Luckily, no violence occurred."

But when asked by Robin Roberts if he really would have hurt someone if he'd been set upon, Neeson said, "That was my feeling, that I did want to lash out because my friend was brutally raped and I did want to defend her honor."

Neeson asked Roberts, who is black, to "tell me what the teachable moment is." She credited him for volunteering that he felt that way and acknowledging it's wrong, but pointed out that he should understand that black people feel pain for being blamed for crimes they didn't commit because of their skin color.

"You're absolutely right, and at the time, I didn't think about that," Neeson replied.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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