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.
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.