I first watched this movie when I was about 16 with my grandparents. It is a powerful movie based on the true story
of two FBI agents who are investigating the murder of three civil rights workers.
This movie set a lot of my mindset on where I stood for race relations. As I rewatched it I realized just how much my values were aligned with the producers.
The first thing that struck me was how the movie was all about white people. There were no significant parts by black people. The heroes of the movie were two white men all of the villians are white. Black people (in this movie) are caught in the middle of a struggle between the FBI and a bunch of local Klansmen.
From my perspective I came to admire the idea of being like those FBI agents. They were strong and powerful men going up against a bunch of bullies. There is an underlying struggle between the two heroes. One is a cool by the book Northeasterner (William Dafoe)who plays it by the book. He is outraged at the oppression he sees, and the sheer brutality of violence. But he is somewhat inneffective at getting an arrest. Everything he tries just invites more retribution on the black people. If he asks a black man a question the Klan grabs the black man and beats him senseless.
Hackman plays a former Tennessee sherriff who left Mississippi to join the FBI. He thinks like these people, but is also outraged at the injustice he sees. His approach is far funner to watch in the movies. In one scene he walks into the KKK headquarters, grabs a thug by the balls and twists until the guy collapses.
The tension between these two good men is probably the best thing about this movie. They both believe in the same thing, but their disagreement over how to take down the Klan causes frequent arguments; in fact, at one point Defoe almost shoots Hackman.
In the end it is a very rewarding movie. You see these people who have been oppressive of blacks, spreading fear and hatred get their just deserts...outsmarted by two shrewd FBI agents. It is also kind of bittersweet when you see a bunch of murderers getting convicted for violation of civil rights (7 years); but in context, this case truly began to change the way people thought
As I said, the movie is about white people. Blacks in the movie are largely potrayed as victoms...often bravely standing up, but still unable to stop the oppression of the system.
Black people often speak with pride of their achievements in overcoming this oppression. This pride is well deserved. But for the white man in America it is more complex. I have ancestors that fought for the South, the Confederacy, and relatives today who never miss a chance to say the "N" word.
But I also take a great deal of pride in the way we fought, even within our own race, to ensure liberty and justice for all.
This movie truly captures my way of thinking and gives two strong role models for anyone who wants to be on the side of equality and freedom.
Labels: Civil Rights, Mississippi Burning, Movie Review, White Activism