Paul Schrader Says Toronto International Film Festival Rejected ‘Master Gardener’ Over Racism Concerns

Paul Schrader’s new film “Master Gardener” wraps up his loose trilogy that began with “First Reformed” and “The Card Counter” via a fittingly controversial bang, as the film stars Joel Edgerton as a former white supremacist who hides from his past by working as a gardener on a large estate. Critics have pointed out that the unapologetic film is not for everyone — and Schrader has gleefully used his press tour to remind everyone that he doesn’t really care what they think.

The film premiered at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, where Schrader received a Golden Lion for his lifetime achievements in the film industry. But in a new interview with Vanity Fair, Schrader revealed that the film missed out on the opportunity to bow at a different festival due to concerns about the sensitive subject matter.

“Cameron Bailey, who runs the Toronto Film Festival, had issues with it. They wouldn’t accept it,” Schrader said. “He said he couldn’t put a film in the festival that treats racism so lightly. The film deals with racism, but it doesn’t really deal with racism. It doesn’t really deal with white supremacism. Certainly, it doesn’t really deal with gardening. It deals with the journey of a soul. And then of course, you know, you put those hot-button issues in there, and you do a reverse Mandingo. You know, in the old plantation, the field hand or the kitchen girl were always prey for the white owner. Here we just reversed that, and the Proud Boy becomes Mandingo.”

Schrader stood by his film, explaining that he sees it as an artistic interpretation of human existence rather than a commentary on the way the world currently operates.

“Movies don’t always have to say, ‘this is the way it is,’” he said. “They can sometimes ask, ‘could there be another way?’ That is a way film can exercise the mind and the imagination. And the garden, of course, is the oldest fable we have. We were born there, and we would still be there if it wasn’t for that snake.”

“Master Gardener” is now playing in theaters.

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