Paper Towns director Jake Schreier has one regret about his adaptation of John Green’s novel: He wishes he had given a fuck. In the movie, Nat Wolff’s besotted high-schooler Quentin rallies his friends for a road trip to find missing neighbor Margo, and as they drive up the East Coast together, a spilled liquid forces them to stop at a convenience store and grab a few new rolled-up T-shirts to wear. They didn’t think to look at their new clothes before buying them, and that’s how Quentin’s sidekick Ben (Austin Abrams) comes to don a pink “World’s Best Grandma” T-shirt, while their black friend Radar (Justice Smith) unfurls his shirt to reveal that it’s emblazoned with the Confederate flag and the unfortunate slogan “Heritage, Not Hate.” It’s meant to be played for a laugh, but in light of the recent events surrounding the flag in South Carolina, we wondered what Schreier made of that moment now.
“What this joke is about is saying that this flag is unacceptable and racist,” Schreier told us at the movie’s London Hotel after-party, sponsored by Forevermark Diamonds and WSJ magazine. Though they’d shot another version of the scene with a different shirt “just in case,” Schreier had only one regret about the moment as it plays in the final cut. “I think the only thing we would have done differently is we would have have been harsher about it,” he said. “Watching that in the context of Charleston … You get one ‘fuck’ in a PG-13 movie. You’re allowed to say ‘fuck’ once. We never said it. And I wish we had said that at that point. I wish we would have said, ‘Fuck that.’”