Example Of Research Paper On Ghosts of Mississippi by Rob Reiners
Dr. Andrew Jones
Medgar Evers Assassination and Civil Rights in the Eyes of a White Lawyer
Rob Reiner’s Ghosts of Mississippi has become a film symbol of white superiority in the state of Mississippi. The 1990 movie is a film memoir of a celebrated case of an African-American civil rights movement leader, Medgar Evers who was assassinated in 1963. The movie revolves around the indomitable spirit of Evers’ wife Myrlie and the assistant district attorney, Bobby DeLaughter who opens the case again after 30 years. After the painstaking process of establishing the case and finding the right persons to testify against the accused assassin, the case finally wins in 1994. The continued shaping of collective white memory of African-American historical events is at the center of controversy surrounding Ghosts of Mississippi. The white saviour appeal in the movie which focused on the persistent help of a White American lawyer to winning Evers murder case is receiving negative feedbacks among African-American reviewers.
The film starts with images of historical slave trade when Africans were transported from their countries of origin via the Atlantic Ocean which became the burial grounds of many of the blacks. Some among the Africans landed in Mississippi and were sold to English land owners as slaves. Later, black families are seen watching John F. Kennedy speaks regarding his support of racial integration. The film moves showing Medgar Evers entering into his car and driving home. On the other hand, Byron De La Beckwith is shown parking his car and securing a gun from his compartment. He positions himself in the areas covered by trees beside the house of Medgar Evers. Evers enters the scene pulling off into their driveway and once he moves out of the car, De La Beckwith pulls the trigger and Evers was killed on the spot. It was June 12, 1963. Evers is killed on the same hour that Kennedy is delivering his speech on civil rights. The movie goes on with a trial of the accused De La Beckwith but the case failed to bring the accused in. Delay, as the accused is called, is acquitted and goes home with a bunch of supremacists welcoming his return.
Controversies over the film’s authenticity
The movie received positive as well as negative feedback from the African-American communities. One of the well-known criticisms from the African-American communities is the fact that the director and producer, Rob Reiner is not black. Andrew Billings cites Spike Lee proclaiming on television, “The story of Medgar Evers needs to be told by an African-American directorno white director could ever know how to tell a story concerning the disintegration of the black identity through the murder of Evers,” (80). Billings adds that many among the Black activists followed the sentiment of Lee.
Building collective white memory of history
Billings also cites documents stating that the Evers family is appreciating Reiner for doing the film. He adds that Myrlie Evers was on set while filming the movie for checking accuracy. Mrs Evers also mentions in one of the interviews that she appreciated the story line which views the murder of her husband through the eyes of Bobby DeLaughter. Billings’ journal article concludes that it is impossible for films to portray the authenticity of a historical event. Even the assassination of Kennedy it mentions has various angles. The article also cites the proponents of Reiner stating that the film is not even the story Medgar Evers’ killing but a story of a white lawyer who is passionate in achieving justice for the killing an African-American civil rights activist. Myrlie also applauds Reiner for not doing the film in an autobiography type but in a collective memory. Barlowe in another journal article mentions that the movie has taken into account the stories of the people with collective memory of the assassination and the trial. It also includes the personal struggles of DeLaughter during the time that he took on the case.
In the movie, DeLaughter and his family suffers because of his strong will to win the case. His first wife left him and their children. His son is engaging into fights because he is being picked by fellow kids for having a father who is a Black lover. Worse, his family is threatened when the case against the 73 year-old Beckwith is gaining ground. DeLaughter goes into crossroads when Myriel lost her trust on him about his sincerity of bringing justice for her husband’s killing. With the support of his second wife and his children, and the renewed faith of Myriel on him, he again gains momentum in winning the case by not leaving any stone unturned just to collect evidence against Beckwith.
Despite the appreciation of the Evers’ family of the film some reviewers stress that the film still predicts white superiority. Barlowe says, critics are saying that the movie appears to be a story of white civil rights activist as it revolves on how the case wins through the hard work and passion of a white lawyer, DeLaughter. The critics moreover iterate that it is another “white saviour” story because most of the film showed white American characters and only Myriel is the prominent African-American character. Bringing the murderer to justice seems to be brought about by the heroic deeds of the white race. Moreover, in the later part of the film, DeLaughter quotes lines from the speech of John F. Kennedy on civil rights which becomes the turning point of the case leading to victory. Again, it is the white American community that brought justice to the killing of a Black civil rights activist. This is one of the things causing the backlash among the African-American community.
In another journal article written by Kristen Hoerl in Routledge, she mentioned that movies like Ghosts of Mississippi show how the white community gains hegemony in public memory. The movie Hoerl explains is trying to instil in the minds of the people that racial injustice has ended in Mississippi and the white race are the main actors to ending it. The winning of the case symbolizes Mississippi’s progress in terms of its notoriety in racial oppression especially against the blacks. Hoerl says, “Public memories that serve dominant political interests have implications for hegemony” (64).
Hoerl adds that white hegemony of public memory has been spreading in the mainstream media winning public opinion in the midst of racial injustices. She iterates that other movies including Mississippi Burning, Cry Freedom, and Long Walk Home as stories of white struggles with African-Americans as background.
Blatant racial oppression during the trials
Barlowe mentions the controversy in the film during the first trial against Beckwith. In the film, the ex-governor of Mississippi enters the courtroom and shakes hands with De La Beckwith. A journalist turns to his companion and commented that America is allowing such attitudes. Barlowe cites the dialogue of the other journalist saying “What’s America got to do with anything? This is Mississippi,” (35). It only portrays how deep-seated and pervasive the racial oppression in Mississippi. It shows how the white race reigns supreme in the land that has enslaved the Blacks for several centuries. In a society like Mississippi, white people who are convicted or suspected of killing blacks are honourable. In Barlowe’s article, he mentions: “DeLaughter leads the fight for the prosecution and punishment of Beckwith, who had been celebrated in Mississippi in the 1960s as the hero who killed Medgar Evers” (35).
The sincerity to revert oppression
Meanwhile, the film reflects the sincerity of some white Americans to right the wrong doings of their ancestors regarding racial oppression. One of the scenes of the movie shows DeLaughter saying that he has to bring win the case and punish the old man, Beckwith to show the world that not all people, specifically whites in Mississippi, are racists. He also teaches his children not to mind the racist comments from other children regarding his job on defending a slain black. In Mississippi, where defending the rights of blacks are mocked upon; the courage of DeLaughter in pursuing the case until victory is commendable. It is the reason why the Evers family have high respect toward DeLaughter. Myriel even mentioned that seeing the story in the eyes of the lawyer is a nice angle.
The film also reflects how the white community concealed the reality that it was Beckwith who killed Medgar Evers. During the trials 30 years after the assassination, one of the witnesses in support of Beckwith stood firm in his claim that he saw Beckwith 90 miles from Jackson (the place of the murder) thirty minutes after the killing. However, in the research made by DeLaughter and his team, they culled a video clip with Beckwith indirectly claiming that he killed Evers. Also, one of the videos reveals Beckwith saying that it is written in the Bible that the white people rule the world. In the further research made by DeLaughter’s team, they found out that the suspect is a member of Klan that is a notorious for hate crimes.
Whether or not the movie depicts white hegemony of public knowledge or a white saviour story, the fact cannot be discounted that it is one of the eye openers regarding racial prejudice that is rooted since the slave trade until the 20th century. It is one among the many stories that mirror the need for strong willed people to bring about societal change. Whether or not the movie is directed by a white person, it is still a powerful tool to instil among the youth that in the history of America, there is a bitter past that reminds everybody not to redo it. It is a movie that shows to people regardless of color that societal change can only be achieved through action.
Billings, Andrew. “Achieving Authenticity in the Film Ghosts of Mississippi: Identity and Authorship in Historical Narratives.” The Western Journal of Black Studies, 24.2 (2000): 158-169.JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Barlowe, Jamie. “The “Not-Free” and “Not-Me”: Constructions of Whiteness in Rosewood and Ghosts of Mississippi.” Canadian Review of American Studies, 28.3 (2000): 31-46. JSTOR. Web. 10Apr. 2015.
Bollyzone. “Ghosts of Mississippi.” Online video clip. Dailymotion. Dailymotion, 15 Aug. 2010. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Hoerl, Kristen. “Mississippi’s Social Transformation in Public Memories of the Trial against Byron de la Beckwith for the Murder of Medgar Evers.” Routledge: Western Journal of Communication, 72.1 (Jan. – Mar. 2008) 62-82: JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Maslin, Janet. “Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) For a True Story, Dipping into the Classics.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
“Ghosts of Mississippi.” imdb.com, 3 Jan. 1997. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.