Mississipi Burning- Movie Essay

Submitted By georgiefarrar777
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Pages: 4

How successful is “Mississippi Burning” as an historical source to historians studying the Freedom Summer?
The film, Mississippi Burning (1989) can be classified as a very useful source for a historian studying the Civil Rights Movement, and the Freedom Summer especially, however, there are a few noticeable limitations that could prevent historians from gaining a full understanding of the true culture in the Southern States of America. The film does thoroughly examine the role of the Ku Klux Klan and touches upon the role of the media. However, despite the useful information that is provided throughout the film, there are certain flaws that limit the historian from gaining knowledge on the true nature of Southern White and Black Americans alike, during the 1960’s Freedom Summer.
Firstly, the story is based loosely on the real-life murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. After the three young men are reported missing, two FBI agents are sent to investigate the incident in rural Jessup County, Mississippi (modeled after Neshoba County where the real murders took place). The two agents take completely different approaches: Agent Alan Ward (Dafoe), a young liberal northerner, takes a direct approach to the investigation; whereas Agent Rupert Anderson (Hackman), a former Mississippi sheriff who understands the intricacies of race relations in the South, takes a more subtle tack. It is very hard for the two to work in the town, as the local sheriff's office is linked to a major branch of the Ku Klux Klan, and the agents cannot talk to the local black community, due to their fear of Klan retaliation. Whilst many of these facts are eerily accurate, the film fabricates and exaggerates many of the events that took place during the investigations. Such exaggerations include: when the boys’ mutilated bodies are found in a improper, make-shift grave and the deputy sheriff, Clinton Pell (Brad Dourif), realizes that his “faithful” Southern wife gave their locations to Anderson, subsequently resulting in his brutal assaults on her, whilst other Klan members watch in an almost euphoric trance. Despite the disturbing fact that the Deputy did in fact abuse and mutilate his wife, the movie heavily dramatizes the scene in order to emphasize and heighten the power Clinton and the Klan possessed, upon even a loved one. It also helps to fuel the audiences’ hatred and disgust towards the KKK and other Anti-Black Southern supporters. It is evident, therefore, that although this film is not entirely reliable for an historian studying the Freedom Summer, it is highly useful and informative as it strongly accentuates the situations experienced during the 1964 Freedom Summer.
Similarly to the evidence above, this film has many other aspects that make it exceedingly valuable to an historian studying the 1964 Freedom Summer. Whilst this film is based mainly on the investigation of the 3 men of the Civil Rights Movement, this film also cleverly incorporates the other situations occurring at the time. This includes many peaceful protests on behalf of Black and White Civil Rights…