Eine scho­nungs­lo­se Geschich­te über den Kampf nach glei­chen Rech­ten und die Ver­fol­gung dun­kel­häu­ti­ger Menschen.

Befo­re watching the movie “Mis­sis­sip­pi Bur­ning”, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the descrip­ti­on was very near to rea­li­ty on what was hap­pe­ning in Ame­ri­ca and all over the world at the time.

Three civil rights workers found dead

The film is based on a true sto­ry, the disap­pearan­ces of Cha­ney, Good­man and Schwer­ner, three young civil rights workers, who were part of a voter regis­tra­ti­on dri­ve in Mis­sis­sip­pi. When their mur­de­red bodies were final­ly dis­co­ve­r­ed, their corp­ses were irre­fu­ta­ble tes­ti­mo­ny against the offi­cials, who had com­p­lai­ned that the who­le case was a publi­ci­ty stunt, drea­med up by Nort­hern libe­rals and out­side agi­ta­tors. The case beca­me one of the mile­stones, like the day Rosa Parks took her seat on the bus or the day Mar­tin Luther King mar­ched into Mont­go­me­ry, on the long march toward racial jus­ti­ce in this country.

Two FBI men lead an inves­ti­ga­ti­on into the disap­pearan­ces of the civil rights acti­vists. Few men could be more oppo­si­te than the­se two agents: Ander­son (Gene Hack­man), the good old boy, who used to be a she­riff in a town a lot like this one, and Ward (Wil­lem DaFoe), one of Bob­by Kennedy’s bright young men from the Jus­ti­ce Depart­ment. Ander­son belie­ves in kee­ping a low pro­fi­le, han­ging around the bar­ber shop, sort of smel­ling out the likely per­pe­tra­tors. Ward belie­ves in a show of for­ce and calls in hund­reds of federal agents and even the Natio­nal Guard to search for the mis­sing workers.

The two men go their sepa­ra­te ways, their distas­te for each other being the rea­son. We meet some peop­le from the town, the mayor, the she­riff and depu­ty who are all see­min­gly inno­cent. Through inter­ro­ga­ti­ons, poli­ce work, sear­ched and tips, the wheels of jus­ti­ce start to turn and one by one the Klan mem­bers are arres­ted and prosecuted.

Appropriate state of shock

I have mixed fee­lings about this movie. What the direc­tor real­ly did right, was show the hel­pless­ness of the black peop­le in this situa­ti­on. The agents tried to ask them for help, and even if they stay­ed silent, they were still ter­ro­ri­zed and bea­ten up by the Ku Klux Klan. The­re was nowhe­re for them to go, no way to call for help. The bru­tal mur­ders of several black peop­le, inclu­ding the bur­ning of their farms and lyn­ching, were not sugar coated, lea­ving the wat­cher in a total­ly appro­pria­te sta­te of shock. The movie clear­ly depic­ted the mind set of peop­le in the South, showing the racist ideo­lo­gy deeply ing­rai­ned into their ever­y­day lifestyle.

The big­gest pro­blem with the film in my eyes is the under­cur­rent of white saviou­rism, that runs through the ent­i­re film. White saviou­rism, in film, is a cine­ma­tic tro­pe, in which a white cha­rac­ter res­cues non-white cha­rac­ters from unfor­tu­n­a­te cir­cum­s­tan­ces. In “Mis­sis­sip­pi Bur­ning”, the two white agents res­cue the black popu­la­ti­on from the Ku Klux Klan, the ending being a hap­py mon­ta­ge whe­re the per­pe­tra­tors are arres­ted. Its nar­ra­ti­ve focu­ses on what race poli­tics meant to white peop­le. Most of the black cha­rac­ters in the film are pas­si­ve, except two, who are also toned done to be accep­ta­ble and less threa­tening to the white audiences.

Mixed feelings

In con­clu­si­on, “Mis­sis­sip­pi Bur­ning” is a good film to depict the situa­ti­on in the South in the 60s, as well as the vio­lence that was exer­cis­ed against black peop­le. Nevertheless, it is a white saviour film, that fur­ther pushes the belief that peop­le of colour need help from white peop­le and rely on them for help. If you want to watch films, that address “peop­le of color pro­blems”, I sug­gest you choo­se one that has an almost all “peop­le of color” cast or a per­son of colour director.

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