This story contains plot spoilers for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
In the fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri, it seems like everyone—the town priest, the kids at the local high school—is trying to convince Mildred Hayes to take her billboards down. The 2017 crime drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri centers around the large red signs that Mildred (Frances McDormand) puts up along the road near her home, in order to call out the town’s police chief for not catching the man who raped and killed her daughter, Angela.
The billboards, which read “Raped while dying”; “And still no arrests?”; “How come, Chief Willoughby?,” are extremely divisive in the small Midwestern community. While many in Ebbing empathize with Mildred’s grief, they don’t support her blaming the police chief (who, viewers later find out, is dying of cancer) in such a public and aggressive manner.
And yet, Mildred keeps her billboards up. They become symbols of her tireless search for justice—and, as my colleague Christopher Orr has written, they’re the physical manifestation of “a community struggling to deal with both the horrifying memory of Angela’s murder and the difficult reality of Mildred’s response to it.” The signs, which serve as the film’s visual focal point, are striking as a tool of protest—concise, silently confrontational, memorable. And just a few months after the film’s release, the billboards have begun to inspire activists around the world and inform a wide range of calls for justice.