Viggo Mortensen Apologizes for Saying N-Word at Screening, Mahershala Ali Calls It ‘Hurtful’

Viggo Mortensen.
Viggo Mortensen. Photo: Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images

Viggo Mortensen has said that he “will not utter” the N-word again, after he uttered it at a post-screening Q&A for Green Book on Wednesday. Mortensen and his co-star Mahershala Ali were talking with moderator Elvis Mitchell at a Film Independent Presents screening about how the movie’s interracial friendship fits into a larger conversation about racism in America. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mortensen used the word to illustrate a point about progress: “For instance, no one says n****r anymore,” he said. Audience members from the event said everyone was stunned.

Mortensen apologized for using the world in a statement to THR: “In making the point that many people casually used the N-word at the time in which the movie’s story takes place, in 1962, I used the full word. Although my intention was to speak strongly against racism, I have no right to even imagine the hurt that is caused by hearing that word in any context, especially from a white man. I do not use the word in private or in public. I am very sorry that I did use the full word last night, and will not utter it again.” Keep this promise!

Update, November 11: Mortensen offered an additional explanation for using the word at the panel, which was released on his publishing website. In addition to reiterating how he regrets using the word, he expounded on how he thinks the public’s perception on why he used the word was somewhat misinterpreted. “What has not been made clear is that I was attempting to make the point that the extreme, dehumanizing ugliness that this word conjures, the hateful attitude behind it, has not disappeared just because white people generally no longer use it as a racist insult — at least not publicly, or unless they are part of a hate group,” he wrote, in part. “It is not true, as has been implied in much of the reporting on what I said on Wednesday, that I was naively claimed racism has disappeared along with the general use of the N-word.” You can read Mortensen’s entire statement below.

Update, November 12: “However well-intentioned or intellectual the conversation may have been, it wasn’t appropriate for Viggo to say the n-word,” Ali said in a statement to People. “He had made it clear to me that he’s aware of this, and apologized profusely immediately following the Q&A with Elvis Mitchell. Knowing his intention was to express that removing the n-word from your vocabulary doesn’t necessarily disqualify a person as a racist or participating in actions or thoughts that are bigoted, I can accept and embrace his apology. An excellent and poignant thought was unfortunately overshadowed by voicing the word in its fullness, which for me, is always hurtful. The use of the word in the black community has long been debated, and its usage should continue to be examined within the black community. The use of the word by those who aren’t black is not up for debate. The history of discrimination, slavery, pain, oppression and violence that the word has come to symbolize only causes harm to members of the black community and therefore needs to be left in the past.”

Viggo Mortensen Apologizes for Saying N-Word at Screening