Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver in "Master Gardener"

Paul Schrader says the Toronto International Film Festival rejected ‘Master Gardener’ over racism concerns

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

The film premiered at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival where Schrader was awarded a Golden Lion for his lifetime achievements in the film industry. But in a new interview with Vanity FairSchrader revealed that the film missed the opportunity to bow to a different festival due to concerns over the sensitive subject.

Cameron Bailey, which runs the Toronto Film Festival, has had problems with it. They wouldn’t accept that,” Schrader said. “He said that he couldn’t put a film at the festival that treats racism so lightly. The film is about racism, but it’s not really about racism. It doesn’t actually deal with white supremacism. Of course, he’s not really into gardening. It is about the journey of a soul. And then of course, you know, put those hot topics in there and do a reverse Mandingo. You know, on the old plantation, the farmhand or the scullery maid was always prey to the white owner. Here we just reversed it and the proud boy becomes Mandingo.

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

“Movies don’t always have to say, ‘this is the way it is,'” he said. “Sometimes they may ask, ‘Could there be another way?’ This is one way film can exercise the mind and imagination. And the garden, of course, is the oldest fairy tale we have. We were born there and would still be there if it weren’t for that snake.”

“Master Gardener” is now playing in theaters.