“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has become the darling of this year’s awards season, winning big at the Golden Globes and, more recently, the SAG Awards.

Despite the film’s critical acclaim, however, there’s been plenty of controversy over Sam Rockwell’s character, an unrepentantly racist small-town sheriff, which has earned the film a certain amount of backlash.

In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, “Three Billboards” director Martin McDonagh explains the backlash as he views it, explaining that people who were expecting Rockwell’s character to earn some type of redemption are missing the point.

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“It mostly comes from the idea of Sam Rockwell’s character, who’s a racist, bigoted a**hole, that his character is seemingly being redeemed, maybe,” says McDonagh. “I don’t think his character is redeemed at all — he starts off as a racist jerk. He’s the same pretty much at the end, but, by the end, he’s seen that he has to change. There is room for it, and he has, to a degree, seen the error of his ways, but in no way is he supposed to become some sort of redeemed hero of the piece.”

While McDonagh says that his intention was to be provocative, he admits he’s not immune to criticism. “I kind of get hurt and wonder, Why doesn’t everyone love it?” he says. “But I don’t like films that everyone loves. And we’re not making films for six-year-olds, we’re not making ‘The Avengers’. We’re trying to do something that’s a little bit more difficult and more thoughtful.”

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As McDonagh explains, “It’s supposed to be a deliberately messy and difficult film. Because it’s a messy and difficult world. You have to kind of hold up a mirror to that a little bit and say we don’t have any kind of solution. But I think there’s a lot of hope and humanity in the film and if you look at all those issues with those things in your heart, we might move on to a more interesting place.”

If McDonagh were — like Frances McDormand’s character in the film — to erect billboards about the controversy, what would he have them say? “I’d say something like, ‘Our hearts are totally in the right place,’” he says, “something like that.”

You can watch McDonagh’s interview with EW below:

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