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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

G–Men Visit the Magnolia State

Mississippi Burning (1988) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A still frame of two water fountains mounted side by side, a spic & span one labeled White next to its run­down Colored brother, are shown to be working … for their respective races. Some back­ground flames accompanied by the gospel number, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” introduce us to Mississippi, 1964. A convoy of three vehicles containing seven locals closes the gap on a car occupied by three nervous civil rights workers from out of town. The confrontation turns violent (“I shot me a nigger.”)

With a flurry of newspaper headlines ("NEGRO CHURCH BURNED"), helpful road signs ("Welcome to Mississippi"), and a Civil War derived street name ("Shiloh"), we witness the arrival of “some Hoover boys come down to visit.” Protocol-following FBI Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) and his bend-the-rules partner Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) are introduced to laissez-faire Sheriff Ray Stuckey (Gaylord Sartain) who allows they are “down here to help us solve our nigger problems.” The feds are investigating the disappearance of three civil rights workers whom nobody admits to having seen after they were released from custody. When the feds stay anyway, and bring reinforcements, all hell breaks loose.


Clayton Townley (Stephen Tobolowsky), Grand Wizard of the KKK, holds forth in a Mississippi speech that “we present a shining example of successful segregation.” It's demonstrated in this film by a parallel situation when the two FBI agents drop in on Deputy Clinton Pell (Brad Dourif) late one night as he's eating his dinner. Agent Anderson gets Mrs. Pell (Frances McDormand) aside in the kitchen to remark that she and her husband eat their meals separately (i.e. segregated from each other.) She says it's on account of his odd hours; she eats when she's hungry, and he eats when he can. Makes sense to Anderson who him­self works odd hours. Racial segregation, it seems, also derives from an odd historical timing. Please bear with me as I describe Noah's story (Jasher 5:14-17):

And the Lord said unto Noah, Take unto thee a wife, and beget children, for I have seen thee righteous before me in this generation. And thou shalt raise up seed, and thy children with thee, in the midst of the earth; and Noah went and took a wife, and he chose Naamah the daughter of Enoch, and she was five hundred and eighty years old. And Noah was four hundred and ninety-eight years old, when he took Naamah for a wife. And Naamah conceived and bare a son, and he called his name Japheth, saying, God has enlarged me in the earth; and she conceived again and bare a son, and he called his name Shem, saying, God has made me a remnant, to raise up seed in the midst of the earth.

(Gen. 5:32) “And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Shem and Japheth were full brothers; Ham was born at a later date (the youngest, see Gen. 9:24) perhaps from a different mother. Noah's wife was older than he was. Perhaps at 580+ years she was no longer able to bear children after the first two. She didn't have any more after the flood even though it was a time to repopulate the Earth. Maybe she stopped bearing before the flood. Ham would then be a half brother from another mother of the other two.

Researcher Mark DeWayne Combs posits that, “Although Jasher specific­ally references the births of Japheth and Shem, there is no such reference to the birth of Ham. … that Ham may have been much younger than his brothers and that he may have had a different mother” (389). (See my review of “Project Almanac” for a fuller explanation.) Combs also observes, “Fathering a child, particularly a son, through a hand­maiden or servant girl would not have been an uncommon or forbidden practice in that time period” (165). Historian Kenneth M. Stampp remarks that “Apologists for slavery traced the history of servitude back to the dawn of civilization and showed that it had always existed in some form until their own day” (14).

Now, Noah had three sons, (Gen. 9:18-19) “And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth over­spread.” A curious incident takes place after they have settled in the revived world, which will define human occupation hence­forth. Gen. 9:20-22, Noah got drunk on wine and was exposed in all his glory to his son Ham who brazenly viewed him so. Noah's other two sons, Shem and Japheth, covered him up, Gen. 9:23. Ham had violated him in some way that Noah sniffed out upon awakening, Gen. 9:24. Noah's curse puts Ham's youngest son Canaan in a position of servitude, Gen. 9:25. Noah's other two sons Shem, Gen. 9:26, and Japheth, Gen. 9:27, were blessed by Noah. The blessing of Shem was shared by Japheth who was to dwell integrated into the tents of Shem. Canaan in Ham's line was probably singled out for mention because of the Canaanites' later dealings with the Semitic Israelites. More germane to Mississippi is the lineage of Cush. Cush was also a son of Ham (Gen. 10:6), settling in Africa. Cush in Hebrew means black. Researcher Bodie Hodge confirms that “As a general trend, Ham is the father of many peoples in Africa” (122). Dr. Ide adds, “Ham sired four sons: Cush (translates as ‘black’) … and Canaan the youngest” (62).

Mrs. Pell confides in Agent Anderson that, “At school, they said segregation what's said in the Bible... Genesis 9, Verse 27. At 7 years of age, you get told it enough times, you believe it.” That's the Bible reference above, (Gen. 9:27) “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” Japheth means ‘enlarge’ whose offspring spread all over Europe (and else­where), mixed in England perhaps with the Semitic ten lost tribes, and settling eventually in America. Any seven-year-old school­child in Mississippi under­stands this. Further­more, Mrs. Pell covered her­self with a night­gown when Agent Anderson came calling again at night, so we see that she has a sense of decency, of modesty ingrained in Shem & Japheth. And the movie has an allusion to a veritable ark of animals wherein NAACP stands for: “Niggers, Alligators, Apes, Coons, and Possums.”

Gambler's Royal Flush Mrs. Pell's father had lost their family house in a poker game—Anderson: “Wicked game, poker”—and they've been renters ever since. That's why her husband has to work such long hours, to pay the rent. She is in fact a shining example of acquiescence without complaint to her husband's wage slavery that led to their segregated eating habits. (1Tim. 6:1-2) “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.” “Mississippi Burning” portrays a settled society accepting of segregation until the unwanted Northern influence is felt. (1Tim. 6:3-6) “If any man teach other­wise, and consent not to whole­some words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such with­draw thyself.”

According to Solomon, (Eccl. 10:5-7) “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.” The KKK Wizard is “here to protect Anglo-Saxon Democracy, and the American way.” The federal govern­ment is more expansive in their democracy. They sent the G–men who are portrayed as foolish. Agent Anderson tells his partner Agent Ward, “You don't know when to speak and when to shut up. That makes you a fool.” Agent Ward for his part criticizes Agent Anderson for “foolin' around with witnesses.” Anderson's story of his poor father whose Negro neighbor Monroe owned a coveted mule brings it all home. (Prov. 30:21-22) “For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear: For a servant when he reigneth ….” Although I'm sure there's enough guilt to go around, this particular movie lays off the Northern propaganda and concentrates instead on a Mississippi perspective laying the blame for the disruption on the unwanted intrusion from the North in general and the feds in particular. (Prov. 30:33) “Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.” We hear of the plowing of a mule bringing forth crops for profit, and we see Agent Anderson ineptly shaving deputy Pell making him bleed. Like­wise, the North's wrathful protests against the South brought forth strife.

Production Values

This controversial flick, “Mississippi Burning” (1988) was directed by Alan Parker. It was written by Chris Gerolmo. It stars Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, and Frances McDormand. The tour de force performances from Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe were supplemented by the good performances of every­one else, and some splendid ones. There are no wasted lines, and the villains are superbly villainous. The acting is strong through­out.

“Mississippi Burning” is rated R. Names have been changed and characters rearranged to depart from a strict account of the actual incidents. The sets were painted in such a way that when the film was color- corrected, it brought out the faces better. The direction is tasteful and location shooting evocative. Cinematographer Peter Biziou gave us a dark picture to depict the dark times. The original music by Trevor Jones suits the picture, and the familiar gospel songs were moving.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This film was controversial when it came out and still is. The Southern rednecks are too stereo­typical, the Negroes too passive, and the struggle narrative too non-heroic for some tastes. Me, I thought it did just fine, but then I have some familiarity with the scriptural lessons embodied in it. Still, it brought back unpleasant memories of trying times, so it didn't work as a feel-good movie, though it did okay as Film Noir.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action-packed. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Absolutely amazing special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software. Print.

Combs, Mark DeWayne. End the Beginning. USA: Splinter in the Mind's Eye Pub., 2014. Print.

Hodge, Bodie. Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Pub., 2013. Print.

Ide, Arthur Frederick. Noah & the Ark: The Influence of Sex, Homo­phobia and Hetero­sexism in the Flood Story and its Writing. Las Colinas: Monument Press, 1992. Print.

The Book of Jasher. Trans­lated from the Hebrew into English (1840). Photo litho­graphic reprint of exact edition published by J.H. Parry & Co., Salt Lake City: 1887. Muskogee, OK: Artisan Pub., 1988. Print, WEB.

Stampp, Kenneth M., Professor of American History at the University of California (Berkeley).
   The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South. Vintage Books, 1955. Print.