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Arthur, Paul. ""Hollywood: The Dustbin of History." USA Today [Magazine] 117.2528 (May 1989):35.
"When it comes to rewriting the past and serving it up in a stomach-churning gruel, nothing approaches the Cuisinart of Hollywood spectacle. 'Mississippi Burning' is a blue-plate special. The resulting debate has raged for months."
Bourgeois, Henry. ""Hollywood and the Civil Rights Movement: The Case of Mississippi Burning." Howard Journal of Communications 4. 1-2 (1992) 157-63.
Bourgeois criticizes the traditional Hollywood view on racism. Hollywood tends to depict minorities as powerless victims who can not confront their struggles. Although they suffer from the racism, they keep silent and do not show any effort to overcome. On the other hand, whites are both assailants and heroes, yet movies are obviously explored through eyes of heroes. In Mississippi Burning, two white FBI agents are shown to be responsible for civil rights victories, disregarding the effort of unsung African American heroes to resist racism. Therefore, Bourgeois is critical about film producers and directors using struggles of minorities as stages of white heroes. These films are good sources of entertainment, but he believes that they forget their responsibility of recording history. Using white heroes, it is an easy way to achieve box office success; nevertheless, he points out that movies in victim's view on the issue of racism could be successes, bringing up Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee.
Brinson, Susan L. "The Myth of White Superiority in 'Mississippi Burning.'" Southern Communication Journal 60.3 1995):211-20.
Brinson's essay is a two-part examination. The first portion takes a look at the SVM or Social Value Model, which is a method used to analyze culture and narratives and its output of social value. Brinson attempts to offer a revision of the model originally developed by Frentz and Rushing. She claims that some narratives can be generalized because of certain facts that we cannot explain. This speculation that occurs is the origin of Myth. Brinson relates this theory about the SVM into the second part of her article that tackles the plot lines and major themes in this movie. Brinson's biggest argument is that throughout the movie, blacks are portrayed as helpless, defenseless victims that have been waiting for the whites to come down from the FBI and save them from the oppression. Brinson has a problem with this because this was a time during history when African Americans were leading the fight against racial discrimination.
Cha-Jua, Sundiata K. "Mississippi Burning: The Burning of Black Self-activity." Radical History Review 45 (1989): 124-36.
Cha-Jua criticizes Hollywood's neglect of portraying the black movement in civil rights cinema. Cha-Jua discusses the different roles Afro-Americans have had in films -- some passive, some empowering, but none that depict the influence of the black movement during the fight for civil rights. Mississippi Burning is referenced as the epitome of the diminishing of black agency. Cha-Jua discusses the many varied ways in which self-activity is stripped from the Afro-American population in this film, an approach that has set the standard for the black movement's portrayal in civil rights films.
Chafe, William H. "Mississippi Burning." Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. Ed. Mark C. Carnes. New York: Holt, 1995.
The film may be one of a very few Hollywood films to depict the civil rights era, but it is an "atrocious distortion of history." Where are the black activists, the local people who heroically sustained and built the movement in defiance of white terror?
"Civil Rights, Burned." New York Times 30 December 1988: A10.
Editorial in arguably the country's leading newspaper blasts the historical inaccuracies in the film. "Almost perversely," the film recreates events "in a way that mocks civil rights." FBI lawlessness "traduces the principles for which so many sacrificed so much to advance civil rights." Thee three young men are "worse than forgotten," they are "defamed."
Hoerl, Kristen. "Burning Mississippi into Memory? Cinematic Amnesia as a Resource for Remembering Civil Rights." Critical Studies in Media Communicatio 26.1 (2009): 54-79.
Hoerl's essay is concerned with the film's presence in the world of media, memory, and culture. She is very critical of the "alternative memory" created in Mississippi Burning that portrays the FBI agents as heroes of the civil rights movement. With extensive reference to various studies, she follows the critical grain in decrying against the blatant inaccuracy of the film. Although Hoerl argues that the film represents a kind of historical and cinematic amnesia, she is not so concerned with what has been forgotten as she is with the fact that the inaccuracy of the film prompted criticism of white hegemony in the United States. She further explains the film's vital role in encouraging a re-evaluation of history in the civil rights era sparking a new investigation into cold cases from the period. She specifically cites the 2005 prosecution of Edgar Ray Killen for the murders of the three civil rights workers who were depicted in the film. A unique aspect of Hoerl's study focuses on the idea of "les lieux de memoire" or sites of memory. These sites of memory recall the past in physical or rhetorical terms. Hoerl argues that a Hollywood film classifies as commercially available public memory. She connects numerous moments of the reported memory of the events in Mississippi with the imagined memory of Parker's film. Overall, her study is extremely useful in its summarization and evaluation of previous critical articles related to Mississippi Burning. Of particular note is her discussion of the film as a catalyst toward investigation of the past and its role in bringing justice to the initial murder case depicted in the film.
Jansson, David. "'A Geography of Racism': Internal Orientalism and the Construction of American National Identity in the Film Mississippi Burning." National Identities 7.3 (2005): 265-85.
Jansson proposes that Mississippi Burning is one in a line of negative films about the South that envisages the region as a space unto itself where racism, prejudice, violence, and brutality reign. In perpetuating a tradition of negativity, Mississippi Burning furthers stereotypes of white Southerners and permits Americans to encapsulate the region and it's inhabitants as fundamentally different and inferior from the rest of the country. Jansson connects this paradigm to European culture and internal Orientalism [in which the Orient has helped to define Europe as its contrasting image, idea, personality, and experience]. The discourse of Orientalism operates on the position that European culture is superior to the Oriental culture found within its geographic borders. As the dominant culture, Europeans must continually denote undesirable attributes in the other in order to position itself as the predominant identity of its space. In applying Orientalism theory to Mississippi Burning, Jansson makes meaning of America's need to malign the South in order to construct a "national identity that emphasizes tolerance, enlightenment and respect for the law and human rights."
King, Coretta Scott. "Hollywood's Latest Perversion: The Civil-Rights Era as a White Experience." Los Angeles Times 13 December 1988): 7.
King, wife of Martin Luther King, though apparently not having seen the film, lends her name-power to criticism of the film for its neglect of blacks. Mississippi Burning is just "another Hollywood whitewash of the black freedom struggle because it centers on the trials and tribulations of white people on the periphery of the movement."
Madison, Kelly J. "Legitimation Crisis and Containment: The 'Anti-Racist-White-Hero' Film." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 16.4 (1999):399-416.
Although white supremacist patriarchal capitalist ideology transparently dominated U.S. culture during most of the twentieth century, the last thirty to forty years of this century have been marked by a legitimation crisis for white supremacy and patriarchy and a concurrent backlash of the institutionalized forces of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. African American movements for equality played a pivotal role in creating this crisis. They destabilized white domination by forcefully arguing, and painstakingly illustrating, the illegitimacy of the structure of white "racial" oppression. . . . From the late 1980s to the present, the film industry has directly responded to the primary source of the white legitimation crisis by constructing co-optive collective memories of struggles for African peoples' equality. . . . The mass dissemination of historical "anti-racist" narratives that marginalize African and African American agency, thereby highlighting "white" heroism, mark whiteness in crisis, resolve the crisis through a paternalistic white supremacist co-optation of anti-racist struggle, and provide a re-legitimating historical fiction supportive of the white backlash against equality.
Rael, Patrick. "Freedom Struggle Films: History or Hollywood?" Socialist Review 2.3 (1992): 119-30.
Examines seven films from 1987 to 1992 that constitute a new "freedom struggle" genre [all are in our comparison film section]: while their existence may reflect broad and positive changes in racial attitudes, the results have been haphazard and uneven at best. The development of a successful freedom struggle film formula, combining both progressive racial politics and box-office success, has proceeded only piecemeal." The problem is "edutainment," combining education and entertainment. The white side in these films predominate, though Malcolm X presents a bit of a breakthrough in appealing to a general audience.
Rocchio, Vincent F. "Mississippi (and History) Burning." Reel Racism: Confronting Hollywood's Construction of Afro-American Culture. Boulder: Westview, 2000. 95-113.
Although Mississippi Burning takes an anti-racism standpoint from the start, it focuses more on the white people's views on how to end racism rather than on the black people's views on the subject. This representation of the civil rights movement is not inaccurate. The film simply chooses to exploit coping with the racism from a perspective different than the typical black activist. Mississippi Burning is heavily focused on the FBI's involvement in the civil rights movement, which is a distortion of history, but Rocchio endorses this distortion. The FBI's involvement plays a key role in moving the focus of the time period from the black activists to the white privileged. This ongoing conflict between Ward and Anderson on how to defeat this racist culture allows the film to remove the focus from the black struggle/collective action and hone in on the position of "privilege." Ward's character becomes the strongest voice against racism. Therefore, this racism that is "perpetrated by whites, becomes a problem for whites to solve." He proposes that the Ward and Anderson dispute is a tool the film uses to try to examine the effectiveness of the federal government in regards to social change. Although Rocchio's theme seems to be how the film highlights the privilege efforts to stop racism, he finishes with the contrasting view that the film's ending scene shifts its focus from the privilege to the collective effort by showing a racially integrated congregation that stands together where the burned church used to stand.
Toplin, Robert Brent. History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1996.
A first-stop kind of article. Comprehensive introduction to the nature of the film, its background, and the issues it raised. The film "raised serious questions from critics in three important respects": it portrays blacks as "sheeplike victims" who were not active in the civil rights movement, it distorted the view of FBI tactics in solving the murders, and it misinterprets the role of violence in bringing about social change. The film's thesis, embodied in Anderson's story about his father, is that poverty is the root of bigotry. Ultimately, the film "represents a lost opportunity." The needless debate over authenticity overshadows the chance to explore the social issues.

See Also

Cagin, Seth. Rev. of Mississippi Burning, dir. Alan Parker. Vogue December 1988: 332-37.

Carnes, Mark C. "Film and History: Shooting (Down) the Past: Historians vs. Hollywood." Cineaste 29.2 (2004): 45-49.

Davis, Thulani. "Civil Rights and Wrongs." American Film 14.3 (1988):32-41.

Dessommes, Nancy Bishop. "Hollywood in Hoods: The Portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan in Popular Film." Journal of Popular Culture 32.4 (1999): 13-22.

Doherty, T. "'Mississippi Burning'" Cineaste 17.2 (1989): 48-50.

Higashi, Sumiko. "Walker and Mississippi Burning: Postmodernism versus Illusionist Narrative." The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media. Ed. Marcia Landy. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2001.

Hoerl, Kristen. "Remembering and Forgetting Black Power in Mississippi Burning." Uncovering Hidden Rhetorics: Social Issues in Disguise. Ed. Barry Brummet. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008.

Kellman, Steven G. "The Trials of Recent American Film." Antioch Review 50.3 (1992): 566-77.

Kifner, John. "Mississippi in '64: Fact vs. Fantasy." New York Times 6 July 1994): A13.

Lerner, Michael. "Mississippi Burning." Tikkun 4.2 (1989): 8.

Marquand, Robert. "Feelings Smolder Over 'Burning' Issue." Christian Science Monitor 24 February 1989: 11.

McCrisken, Trevor, and Andrew Pepper. "From Civil Rights to Black Nationalism?" American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005. 160-86.

McPherson, James Alan. "Burning Memories, Mississippi 1964." New York Times 4 January 1989: 15.

Nielsen, Aldon L. "Nostalgia and the Racial Epiphany." CLA Journal 39.2 (1995): 195-207.

Niemi, Robert. History in the Media: Film and Television. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

Prince, Stephen. American Cinema of the 1980s: Themes and Variations. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2007.

Rollins, Peter C. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past. New York: Columbia UP, 2003.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "A Perversion of the Past (Mississippi Burning)." Berkeley: U of California P, 1997. 118-24.

Rosenstone, Robert. Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995.

Salvaggio, David William. "Mississippi travelin': A Teacher's Portrait of the South with Continued Racism." Education 111.4 (1991): 568-72.

Sanello, Frank. Reel v. Real: How Hollywood Turns Fact into Fiction. New York: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2003.

Online Resources

Falk, Quentin. "Alan Parker." Film Reference.
Factual information and brief essay on the director.
Smithee, Alan. "Mississippi's Burning." Media Matters.
"There is truth here yet simultaneously there is the distortion that is Hollywood. The historical 'inaccuracies' provoked complaints from several quarters - in particular from Blacks who resented their 'passive 'representation given that much was achieved by the grass-roots radicalism in the sixties. Parker's and my, answer to these complaints would be that the film was an attempt at articulating their anger and in movies, as in life, things change slowly. Mississippi Burning was one of Hollywood's finer achievements."