Mississippi Burning Film Essays
Director: Alan Parker
Entertainment grade: B
History grade: D–
On 21 June 1964, one black and two white civil rights activists disappeared near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The FBI codenamed the case MIBURN – short for Mississippi Burning.
The three activists – in real life, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, though they are not named in the film – are driving, tailed by several cars. When they stop, they are murdered and their bodies hidden by a mob of white men connected to the Ku Klux Klan. Later, the FBI turn up, in the fictionalised forms of spiky white liberal intellectual Agent Ward (Willem Dafoe) and rough-around-the-edges white liberal anti-intellectual Agent Anderson (Gene Hackman). Viewers may erroneously conclude that the FBI in 1964 was the vanguard of liberalism, though there is a brief reference to the rather less progressive views of its director J Edgar Hoover. Anderson and Ward are based approximately on real FBI agents John Proctor and Joseph Sullivan.
Ward escalates the investigation with agents from Washington. "You'll start a war," Anderson warns him. "It was a war long before we got here," Ward snaps back. This, along with a nod to the story of James Meredith, is about as far as the film gets towards contextualisation. On release, it was criticised by civil rights figures including Coretta Scott King for largely ignoring the role of black and white activists. One figure who could have been in the movie (and isn't) was Mrs King's husband, Martin Luther King Jr. He visited Philadelphia a month after the disappearances, and declared: "This is a terrible town. The worst I've seen. There is a complete reign of terror here."
Though Mississippi Burning depicts many appalling (and broadly accurate) incidents of racist violence, its narrative focus is on what race politics meant to white people. Most of the black characters in the film are passive, with two notable exceptions. First, the screenplay puts a few aspirations to freedom in the mouth of an angelic young boy, perhaps hoping that the fact he is a child will render anything that sounds like a demand less threatening to any jittery white people in the audience. Second, it creates a flip side to the innocent black child: the scary black monster. Badass FBI Agent Monk (Badja Djola) kidnaps the town's racist mayor and threatens to chop his privates off with a razor blade if he doesn't give up the guilty men. Monk is pretty implausible, though there were such things as black FBI agents in 1964: the first was appointed in 1919. Real-life mafioso and FBI informant Gregory Scarpa (who was of white Italian heritage) claimed to have fulfilled a role similar to Monk's, though historians of the case generally take that with a substantial pinch of salt. Clearly, Mississippi Burning has good intentions when it comes to portraying the history of race politics. Even so, with Monk and the boy as its only substantial black characters, it can't help echoing Rudyard Kipling's description of conquered peoples as "half-devil and half-child" – hinting that, deep down, it isn't immune from some rum old ideas itself.
In the film, Mrs Pell (Frances McDormand), wife of sheriff's deputy and lynch mob leader Clinton Pell (Brad Dourif), reveals a police conspiracy. This leads Anderson and Ward to another of the guilty men, who they soon intimidate into a confession. All of these characters are fictional. In place of Mrs Pell, there was a "Mr X", who has subsequently been named by journalists as highway patrolman Maynard King. Rather than resorting to the vigilante tactics used by Anderson in the film, the FBI allegedly paid cash for information to crack the case. Seven men (out of 18 accused) were convicted on relatively minor conspiracy charges. The only man convicted of the manslaughter of the three activists was Edgar Ray Killen, who was finally prosecuted in 2005.
Mississippi Burning is written, acted and filmed with flair, but its history and politics are as murky as a Mississippi swamp.
Show MoreMississippi Burning
Mississippi is one of the United States of America. Situated in Southern America, across the river from Alabama, this state was the setting for one of the biggest civil rights cases in American history, and hence was also the setting for the 1988 film "Mississippi Burning," based roughly on a true story in 1964, "When America was at war with itself." Alan Parker, the director of this film, uses artistic medium to portray many concerns, including racism, courage, and justice. This essay will discuss racism while looking at the artistic medium used to help emphasize this prominent concern.
"Mississippi Burning," was primarily about racism, and consequently was the greatest…show more content…
Playing black gospel music in the background Parker displayed an intense sense of contrast as the camera panned through the intensely burning debris of a black church. This is very symbolic because black churches were the head of many black civil rights movements, and especially used by Martin Luther King. The burning may also represent people's emotions in the film, symbolising the burning of idealism, hope, bigotry, depression or even hate. It could even be a representation of the intense characters displayed in the film.
As before mentioned the film was for the most part about racism, and they were able to make this story as believable as possible by making it a fictionalisation of a true story. The director structured it like a mystery thriller to make it more entertaining for the view, but basing it on a true story gave the film some substance and background which the viewer was able to relate to. Most people who view the film were probably aware of the racist background the Americans had and were able to relate parts of the movie to their own knowledge and experiences. As well as for being for viewer entertainment the mystery thriller format was able to create relationships between the characters, for example F.B.I. agents Ward and Anderson. Many original thrillers established the