Mississippi Burning (1988) Directed by Alan Parker
Racism is something that has crossed my path on a regular basis throughout my life. Name calling based on my skin color (in my case: olive) and dark looks have followed me everywhere. At times in my life, as I'm being called this and that, I've often questioned the correct way to respond to racial abuse. Ignore it and try to understand it? Or confront it head on? What is our collective response to racism? I'm often appalled nowadays when on a regular basis right-wing parties win lots of votes. In times of hardship, anti-foreigner/immigration feeling spreads across the world. This is in some sense a modern front line. We should redouble efforts to stop these attitudes. Are we doing enough? Are you making a stand? Do we fight fire with fire?
Mississippi Burning tackles this perspective in a dramatized version of true events that involve the disappearance and ultimately murder of three civil rights activists (one of whom is black) in Mississippi in 1963. The film portrays very obvious racial and class divides in the Mississippi of this era, yet only from a white perspective. The main characters in this picture are white people, the victimized blacks often portrayed as silent spirited victims. This is an obvious fault. Yet, despite this, Mississippi Burning also tackles the ethics on how to deal with violent racial ideology. Willem Dafoe plays idealistic left leaning FBI Agent Ward, going by the book to crack the case. He's partnered by experienced, former Deep South living Agent Anderson (Gene Hackman), who would rather use more unorthodox approaches to solve the case. It's their contrast of styles and ideologies that the film focuses on, whilst racist action around them forms a violent and compelling backdrop.
Alan Parker directs well, pulling great performances from the cast. Mississippi Burning has a power that is undeniable, and it excuses its descent into violence as a way to deal with a greater problem by giving the viewer enough reason to feel the violence used is justifiable. Yes, it's a revenge movie. And yes, it made me feel good. Confrontation, retaliation, fighting prejudice and ignorance. Yes, we reached that level a long time ago. There is only one way. This struggle continues.
Mississippi Burning makes me incredibly angry for its content. It portrays a way of thinking and acting without logic, through hatred. My anger is mixed with bafflement as I realize that although this film is old by now, organized racism is alive and kicking.
Yet, this is a film about the oppressor and his consciousness. It's a white movie about what happens when some individuals in the privileged group get a consciousness and begin to fight 'internally'.
It's a Hollywood film with big white stars Defoe and Hackman visualizing the conflict that arises when
the oppressor needs to change.
Frances McDormand plays the wife of the town's sheriff. He is an important member of the Ku Klux Klan. She is elemental in the FBI getting information about the actions of the Klan. This adds another level of internal battle into the film, a portrayal of a marriage as another sight of oppression.
I find it difficult to write about my anger. That is why this review has been dragging for a week now and a load of other films will go unreviewed. Let me just finish by saying that Mississippi Burning is a little bit like a 1970s New Hollywood film and for that it is enjoyable.