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Films >> Mississippi Burning (1988) >>

The story of the film’s genesis and development, as well as subsequent controversy, is covered in detail by Robert Brent Toplin in History by Hollywood. The key players are Chris Gerolmo and Alan Parker. The film was written by Gerolmo, a documentary film teacher who wanted to become a director. He was initially inspired by Welch and Marston’s Inside Hoover’s FBI to write a screenplay on the FBI’s fight with the Klan -- hence the two main characters are white agents -- that would be “a lot like what really happened,” “relatively consistent” with history, close to history “in spirit.” Later sources were William Bradford Huie’s Three Lives for Mississippi and Don Whitehead’s Attack on Terror, as well as newspaper reports and court testimony. Director Parker “adjusted” the script, pulling it toward fiction, in ways that disturbed Gerolmo. Parker felt that “I was presented with fiction and marginal historical background, and I reversed this balance when I re-wrote the script.” Ironically, though, says Toplin, much of the second half of the film is “simply invented,” giving too much credit to the FBI and fabricating the bureau’s extra-legal tactics. Gerolmo was especially troubled by Parker cutting a scene that cast doubt on the FBI’s role in dealing with civil rights cases and by modifying the climactic, dramatic scene in which the FBI intimidate the mayor by making it a threatened castration by a mythical black agent. Bottom line for Gerolmo was that the touting of the film as authentic history, which it was never meant to be, “set a standard to which we couldn’t live up.” Both Gerolmo and Parker try to dodge the question of authenticity raised by critics, and Gerolmo seems to blame Parker for the major examples at issue.