Thursday, June 30, 2016

News: A Hollywood Film With Footnotes and Viewers Guide--The Free State of Jones

Aiming For Accuracy: Free State of Jones, Contingency, and the Meaning of Freedom, Journal of The Civil War Era, June 29, 2016.                                                                                                        The following is an excerpt from the online website of the Journal of The Civil War Era:

"Early in Free State of Jones a Confederate soldier proclaims he is not fighting for slavery but rather “for honor.” His comrades, including poor Mississippi farmer Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), needle him. Considering the “Twenty Negro Law,” Conscription Act, and tax-in-kind law, they point out that their blood only helps slaveholders get richer. After deserting, Knight leads poor farmers and former slaves against conscription, taxation, and re-enslavement. Against a shared enemy, the Confederacy, he brings black and white fugitives together. But when Knight and his black comrades-in-arms attempt to move from the bullet to the ballot box, white allies fade away and white supremacists rise up."

"Beginning at the Battle of Corinth in 1862, Free State of Jones is about a long Reconstruction. It uniquely explores African Americans’ struggle for political and economic rights in the face of white power. Here, emancipation has an asterisk. Slavery ends with the war, but freedom does not follow. After former Confederates return to power and reassert slavery’s white hierarchy, political organizer and ex-slave Moses (Mahershala Ali) captures the reality for black Americans: “We free and we ain’t free.” Unlike other films, Free State of Jones illuminates the contingency of black freedom in the South after the Civil War in the face of white supremacist violence, northern Republican abandonment, and insufficient federal troops. After the battle scenes, the Federal troops are entirely absent."

Jones4"Throughout the film, class, race, and gender overlap and challenge the assumptions of viewers and characters. Women and men, black and white, resist, fight, and survive together. When a white member of Knight’s company tries to deny Moses food because he is black and a fugitive, Moses responds, “How you ain’t?” How, if both are fugitives from compulsory service to slaveholders in a cotton field or on a battlefield, are they different? Through spirituality and experience, Knight considers this equality of the oppressed to be self-evident."

"McConaughey’s portrayal of Knight suggests Nathaniel Bacon and John Brown: a natural leader wild-eyed for solidarity and justice in the face of economic and racial oppression. Director Gary Ross highlights the many methods of resistance employed by fugitive slaves and enslaved people: fleeing to the wilderness, like Moses; remaining on plantations but assisting runaways, like Rachel (Gugu-Mbatha-Raw); remembering, like Moses’ wife (Kesha Bullard Lewis) and son Isaiah (LaJessie Smith). White characters resist Confederate authority similarly, but Ross also delineates the differences in experience. Rachel’s and Moses’s bodies bear witness to their physical and psychological torture, scars that mark the limits of white abilities to fathom black experiences."

Article continued at Aiming For Accuracy: Free State of Jones, Contingency, and the Meaning of Freedom, Journal of The Civil War Era, June 29, 2016:

Text Source:  Muster--Reflections on Popular Culture by the Journal of the Civil War Era

Director Gary Ross' Scene Guide With Footnotes

Gary Ross:  "We felt it was important in an historical movie, especially a movie about such a crucial time in history, for the audience to know what was true and what was fictionalized, even if it was based on underlying source material."

"In this site you will be able to navigate through the entire movie, click the areas that interest you, and see a brief explanation of the historical facts that informed the screenplay. If you are more curious about that part of the movie, we have footnoted the paragraph to see sources on which it is based. But footnotes themselves can be misleading, so if you want to see the entire primary source, you can click again and be transported to the original document. We hope this is helpful, maybe even fun. Some things need to be invented in a movie, but most things in Jones were not. I think it’s only right that you be able to tell which was which." states Gary Ross, Director
 At a meeting of the Union League, Moses (Mahershala Ali) and Newt (Matthew McConaughey) tell the Freedman that all citizens shall have the right to vote.

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