The Truth about “Mississippi Burning”
Movie Review By: **********
Reporter at the Bridges Observer
Over all I feel the truth about the movie “Mississippi Burning”, is it is irrelevant as a historically accurate film. If you know anything about the history of the massacre of the three civil rights workers, than you know that only a small percentage of the movie is true. All though there are many critics who like the movie, most of them are basing their opinions off the movie rather than actual historical facts. I am sure that if they looked at the historical facts of the subject, their personal opinion of the movie would completely switch around. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it was a bad movie; just that it is better when it is proclaimed as fictional rather than a historically correct film. But, overall it was a good plot and wonderfully played out. In fact, it was a good job of acting, and I think that I had nervous system shock because of the intensity of the film. I guess that is a good thing.
In reference to the disarray of facts, I have to point out that the case was solved not by the FBI, but by the hard work of the civil rights workers. In fact, most evidence points to the fact that the FBI and the rest of the government (especially Hoover and his administration), as being a hindrance to the investigation. And not only that, but in the end, the government’s way of “solving” the case, was to bribe a KKK member into giving them the information. Time's White accused Mississippi Burning of presenting "a version of history so distorted that it amounts to a cinematic lynching." Brent Staples of the New York Times believes:
“The weight of "Mississippi Burning's" distortions crushes truth underfoot….. This story was savaged; it seems, in service of a clearly reactionary and outmoded idea: that white Americans would shudder at the idea of heroes not cast in their images.”
NAACP executive director Benjamin L. Hooks said the film "reeks of dishonesty, deception and fraud."
As usual with most movies that tell about horrible situations such as this, the movie Mississippi Burning tells the story from the point of view from some other party than the oppressed. In this case it is a story told from a white point of view, looking at the injustices done to the blacks. This can be great and all, but when you portray the blacks as these poor defenseless little kittens, it, for lack of better words, pisses people off. As said by Dragan Antulov:
“Black Americans are portrayed as nothing more than helpless victims who can't fight for their rights by themselves and must rely on noble whites to rescue them from their misery.”
An anonymous person proclaims:
“Mississippi Burning may masquerade as a serious adult drama, but basically the film does to Southern blacks what Friday the 13th movies do to teenagers, presenting them as nothing more than meat for the grinder.”
Not only does this movie make the blacks look bad, but the racist point of view towards the Mississippians is awful. Take a look at a quote from Jim Emerson, a renowned film critic:
“This movie is…portraying racist whites as easy-to-spot, inbred gargoyles, blacks as noble and utterly helpless/passive victims, and white FBI agents as the action-heroes of the American civil rights movement. Pavlovian director Alan Parker will burn in hell for this one. And he still won't have a clue as to why.”
Jim Emerson also says:
"Newsweek's Ansen, who praised the movie, admitted in his review to feeling a ‘Pavlovian wince’ every time a black person appeared on the screen. That's because the movie soon conditions you to expect an eruption of violence every time you see a black face. Parker uses blacks only as victims – ‘noble’ stick figures to be beaten, lynched or burned in orgiastic explosions of slickly packaged pyrotechnics. In contrast, white Southerners are invariably presented in freak-show close-up as sweat-drenched, no-neck monsters -- inbred gargoyles on parade….He doesn't even seem to realize that his vision is not only racist, it's misanthropic. Making the Klan the villains and the blacks the victims (definitely not the heroes in this picture) is meaningless when you treat both as if they were undifferentiated subhuman cyphers.”
Rita Kempley points out that,
“The black characters are the movie's sacrificial lambs -- burned out, raped, lynched. And they're as sketchily drawn as the inbred-looking white supremacists.”
It is no wonder that the major anti-segregationalists such as, Coretta Scott King, Julian Bond and other well-known civil rights movement veterans, speak out against this movie.
What I find incredibly interesting is that even some of the “Common People” find the same things; Anonymous (New York City, USA) -
“Having just followed the court case of one of the actual perpetrators I was a bit puzzled at the mixture of facts and fiction. Plus I thought the FBI came through as the Hollywood glossed heroes whereas local black people were sketchy non-people. What a pity!”
This last review I found on a message board for Yahoo. I personally find it quite an interesting article:
"You can't handle the truth!", May 23, 2004
“ . . .MB shows us how the phrase "basedon/inspiredby a true story" REALLY means "at most maybe 2% of this story is true, and the rest is BS."
Before you say that it doesn't really matter if a film like MB doesn't stick as closely to the facts as it could have, consider this: if you read the rest of the reviews of this movie, or of the other two mentioned above, you will find about half of the time, it is quite clear that people are getting their history from such films. Time and again, reviewers repeat the demonstrably false statements made on the back of the box or that come from the film's press kit.
The reason this matters is simple. When one adapts a book for a screenplay ─ an art in itself ─ one has to make certain changes due to the fact that each media has its own unique limitations. The important thing, then, is not so much faithfulness to the literal text, but faithfulness to the SUBTEXT and SPIRIT of the original material. However, if you're going to base a film on real events and people, it is vitally important to get the essential facts straight . . . Aside from the fact that the story is almost entirely populated by liberal Hollywood stereotypes, it misses the mark on this important point. The case was not broken by clever investigative techniques…..But neither was the case broken by Gestapo tactics, as depicted in the film. It was broken by bribing one of the participants to "rat out" his fellow conspirators!
. . . When I saw this film in Milwaukee the summer of its release, I was one of only maybe a dozen or two people in the audience. In one scene, after taking one of the killers on a car ride and tricking him into giving them information, the FBI agents drop him off in the black part of town. As they drive off, he looks around nervously at all the residents who are eyeing him with suspicion and curiosity. Half-dozen rows behind me, a black teenage boy shouted out, "Get him!" Maybe he was just making a bad joke in poor taste. Maybe he didn't stop to think how his comments might sound to others in the audience . . . But maybe it should be obvious by now why this sort of propagandistic film-making is dangerous. I also can't help thinking how many white supremacists who know how far from the truth this film is in some places have been further confirmed in their racist views by the fact that film-makers felt they had to lie to make their point . . .
. . . I never needed Hollywood to tell me that racism is wrong. And I'm sick and tired of being presumed guilty of racism until I can prove I'm a liberal Democrat and a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Telling the TRUE story ─ let's say, at least 90% true ─ of what happened in MB would be a far more compelling film, as well as a far more persuasive argument against racism. Instead, we are treated to the usual Hollywood stereotype that the problem of racism is strictly a matter of non-liberal whites oppressing their black moral superiors. And so, in the end, the film actually manages to do more to help perpetuate the cycle of racism than expose or defuse it.
The solution is simple, people: treat each and every individual as an individual, and not as a member of any group, and without any preconceived notions about characteristics which the individual has not yet displayed.
If it had actually happened the way it was depicted in the film, "Mississippi Burning" would be more deserving of the accolades that some reviewers have heaped upon it. But, at the risk of being labeled "politically incorrect" myself, I must give MB only one star, precisely because the film itself is "politically correct.”
Although a bit extreme on some of his views, this anonymous person hits the head of the nail on some of the misleading and incorrect facts that I have been talking about. He brilliantly outlines the unfortunate truth of how our government received the information about the murders and how they happened. It wasn’t by some incredible act of superhero government action, but by some lousy, down under trick. And I have to be honest, I love the title. You Can’t Handle the Truth.
So naturally after reading my review, and some of the reviews of my colleagues, you would suspect me not to want you to watch this movie. You’re wrong. If you are able to put aside the idea that the movie is fiction,then it is an incredibly powerful movie to watch. So on your way home tonight, stop by the local video store, rent it, and see what you think.