The movie “Mississippi Burning” is an emotional depiction of the brutality of racism in the Southern states. It takes place in the small town of Jessup County, Mississippi in 1964 and, for the most part, is based on true events. Two FBI agents go down into the Deep South in order to investigate the disappearance of the three civil rights workers. When they arrive, the white people do not give them too much information and the black people, out of fear of the white people, do not wish to mention a single word to them. The FBI begins to search for any leads they can find, but even the people working at the police station try to sweep everything they know under the rug. The FBI eventually comes up with the idea that the civil rights workers were murdered in a racist plot formulated by the Ku Klux Klan aimed to keep blacks from gaining equal rights.
Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe play the two FBI agents, Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward, respectively. Gailard Sartain plays as the Sherriff Ray Stuckey and R. Lee Ermey plays the Mayor Tilman. Also, Brad Dourif and Frances McDoumand play the Deputy Clinton Pell and Mrs. Pell respectively, two other important characters in the movie. The movie is very critical of the racism in the southern states. It graphically portrays the harsh methods of the Ku Klux Klan and illustrates the harsh feelings that most southern white people had against blacks during this time period. It sends a message to the audience of the wickedness of segregation.
The people of Jessup County, Mississippi were not very fond of the civil rights workers. The citizens believed that they were having their homes intruded on. They saw them as a threat to their whole society and lifestyle. For so long, African Americans had been slaves to the white people and it seemed unethical to them that blacks had the same amount of rights and were at the same level in society. These beliefs were deeply ingrained into southern slave owners and their descendants living in the south at this time. The civil rights workers were obstacles to continuing what the people of Jessup County have been doing for so long.
The two main FBI agents, Anderson and Ward, are unique from each other in their approach to deal with the corruption in Mississippi. Alan Ward wants to be more straightforward with the case and use aggressive, violent methods to get all of the information that he needs. On the other hand, Rupert Anderson wants to use methods that are more passive so that he does not stir up a lot of trouble. In the end, they both come to the conclusion that the aggressive, violent way was the only path they could take towards solving the case. The coercion and violence they use may not be legal, but it is one of the only ways to squeeze the necessary evidence out of the perpetrators of the crime.
Morality is a big element of the movie. There are moral decisions to be made in every almost single scene. Of course, the Sheriff and his men always face the decision of whether or not to oppress the black population, but so does Mr. Anderson. He and Mrs. Pell need to make the moral decision of whether or not to have an affair together behind Deputy Clinton Pell’s back, but of course, he cannot help himself. It happens that Mrs. Pell later redeems herself when she gives Anderson the necessary information relating to the location of the three civil rights workers’ bodies. When Anderson and Ward get into a fight, they need to mutually make a moral decision to make a compromise (and after Ward pulls his gun on Anderson).
“Mississippi Burning” is based on the case of U.S. vs. Cecil Price. There are several obvious similarities between the two events. In both cases, the three civil rights workers are arrested until late at night and are chased down by the Ku Klux Klan when they are released, the bodies are buried around or in a swampy dam, there are a few confessions during the investigation, and members of the local police were tried in a local court, but were acquitted. On the other hand, none of the names were the same, the actual murders and investigations took place in Meridian instead of Jessup County, and most of the events were exaggerated for dramatic effect. The one big difference between the case in the movie and the case in real life was how there were over a hundred FBI agents in Mississippi in the movie. In real life, they were reluctant to send any amount close to this.
I thought this movie was exceptionally well done. It perfectly captured the emotion and intense feelings coming from both the white and black community of Mississippi without being extremely graphic. The case itself surprised me very much. I thought that there should have been many more convictions with the case going all the way up to the Supreme Court. I guess that racism, although not as profound within the Supreme Court, was still present. The only thing the movie did not show too much of was the black community protesting for their rights. It was only Anderson, Ward, and the rest of the FBI that seemed supportive of black civil rights. However, it did show me how serious of a matter desegregation was and how much blacks had to suffer in order to gain equal rights. It is a shame that these people had to go through this great deal of suffering. It is disgusting that the US killed their own people just because of their beliefs and the color of their skin.
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