Paul Schrader claims Toronto Film Festival wouldn’t accept his film about a reformed white supremacist

Paul Schrader has claimed that the way his new film deals with racism led to its rejection from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The 76-year-old director and screenwriter’s latest crime thriller, Master Gardener, stars Australian actor Joel Edgerton as Narvel Roth, a reformed white supremacist-turned-horticulturist.

Narvel develops an unlikely romance with the biracial great-niece, played by Quintessa Swindell, of the wealthy owner (Sigourney Weaver) of the estate he tends to.

In Schrader’s own words: “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.”

It was for this reason, he claims, that “Cameron Bailey, who runs the Toronto Film Festival, had issues with it”.

“They wouldn’t accept it. He said he couldn’t put a film in the festival that treats racism so lightly,” Schrader told Vanity Fair.

“Of course, you know, you put those hot button issues in there, and you do a reverse Mandingo,” he continued. “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.”

“Reverse Mandingo” is a reference to the 1975 film about a plantation-owner’s “relationship” with a slave. Featuring explicit scenes of racist abuse, rape and murder, the film was hugely controversial at the time and condemned as “racist trash” by late critic Roger Ebert.

The Independent has contacted TIFF for comment.

Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver in ‘Master Gardener’ (Magnolia Pictures)
Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver in ‘Master Gardener’ (Magnolia Pictures)

Addressing the film’s subversive ideas, the director added that at the film’s recent screening in New York’s Botanical Gardens where Weaver is on the board, “a woman there said the film was like a fable”.

“And it is like a fable. Movies don’t always have to say, ‘this is the way it is.’ They can sometimes ask, ‘could they be another way?’ That is a way film can exercise the mind and the imagination,” he said, before referring to Christianity’s well-known Garden of Eden story.

“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 had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. It’s out in cinemas now.