“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason. ” This quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel sums up how inconsiderate and cruel people can be, without processing how evil their actions and words are. Few of us seem to realise how crooked, how universal and how evil racism is. In the film ‘Mississippi Burning’ directed by Alan Parker we see the idea of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, through racism, fear and corruption. Parker helps us understand the thoughtlessness and evilness of this idea, with the use of verbal and visual techniques such as dialogue, camera angle and shots,
After three Civil Rights workers, who were organizing a voter registry clinic, go missing in Mississippi’s Jessup County, the FBI deputes Agents Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward to investigate. Agent in charge Alan Ward does everything by the book, while Agent Rupert Anderson however was a Sheriff in Mississippi before joining the FBI and understands the local culture. He’s also prepared to bend the rules a bit if it will help in the investigation. After the duo encounter hostility at the hands of the county police and other males, more agents are brought in.
This leads to a media frenzy, with Mayor Tilman proclaiming openly that this community is an Anglo-Saxon democracy, an example of successful segregation that has been able to withstand the onslaught of integration, and total non-acceptance of Jews, Papists, Turks, Mongols, Orientals, Asians, and Negros. While differences crop up between investigative tactics of the two agents, the Ku Klux Klan, aided by the police, target the fearful African-Americans, brutally torturing them and setting their houses on fire. With the entire local community, both black and white, refusing to come forward with any information.
The FBI must now consider using other methods to try and find out what really happened to the three workers. The main idea of man’s inhumanity to man is clearly shown in this film as Parker uses many visual and verbal techniques to help us, the viewers, understand the importance of its effect on the African-American race. Parker uses the verbal technique of dialogue in supporting this idea of racism in the film. We see this in many scenes, such as when Mrs Pell talks to Rupert Anderson about the origins of where the racism had come from and also when e see the news team interview locals on their thoughts about the three missing civil rights workers. Through the dialogue we understand in peoples own views and their own words of what they really think. This is vital for any viewer to understand how bad the racism was that took place back in the 1960’s. It also gives us factual information of where it comes from (the bible, Genesis 9, Verse 27). This idea is relevant today as we see racism through cults and groups who feel they need to discriminate others because that’s what they think is right, and is what they have been taught their whole life.
These extremists and white supremacist groups and individuals are still alive and healthy today. Christchurch saw what was said to be the largest white nationalist march ever in New Zealand. Because many people believed that racism is right, we can see that this has been passed on through the years and is definitely relevant in todays society. We see how this can happen in the film, like I said before, when Mrs Pell talks to Anderson and she tells us, “Hatred isn’t something we are born with, it gets taught. At school they said segregation is what’s said in the bible.
Genesis 9, Verse 27. At seven years of age you get told that enough times you believe it. You live. Breathe it. You marry it. ” We also see it when people of the area are interviewed by a news team asked on their thoughts about the case of the three missing men. One of the men says, “We got two cultures down here, a white culture and a coloured culture, that’s the way it has been and that’s the way it will always be. ” This reinforces that racism is taught to people and therefore makes people think that discrimination is what they need to do.
Another feature Parker uses to help aid the main idea is the camera angles and shots. Linked with the dialogue to help show racism, camera angles and shots shows us the idea of fear. This is seen via close ups and extreme close ups of people’s faces and their expressions. In the scene where the black man’s house is blown up and engulfed in flames from the men driving past, we see him running out of the house, to a close up of his face. Fear had filled the young man and we could see it through his expressions on his face of total shock and disbelief.
Another type of camera shot we see is a long/wide shot, in the scene where a black man is leaving the police station, after collecting something from Chief Stuckey and Clinton Pell. He then gets taken by the KKK as those two watch on. We can see the fear and the extra effort from the man running away from the KKK, even though we can’t see any facial expressions. Through this long/wide shot we can also see in the background the two policemen, not doing their jobs. This shot is important because it shows all three ideas.
Racism, through the KKK capturing the black man, fear, through the fear that the KKK have shown towards the black man and the fear the black man has as he is running away from them, and corruption, through police officers letting it happen and not doing their jobs, as they are in with the KKK. The idea is relevant today, because through racism we see fear in forced into the lives of the discriminated races. We view this in the film as violence erupts in many of the scenes, from burning buildings and people to brutal killings. This shows a real racial hate from the instigators.
Fear from racist groups and individuals still happens today. A young boy in the USA was shot and killed because someone thought he was a threat, as he was wearing a hoodie and he was black. “His pursuer, George Zimmerman, immediately targeted him as a potential criminal, ‘reporting’ to a police dispatcher, ‘This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something – these assholes they always get away. ” This all in an article in Guardian News and Media. All the boy was doing was walking from the 7/11 to his father’s house.
This shows fear is still instigated through violence at present day, and fear is still put into the lives of a race, still under racial hatred from people that think being inhumane is what’s right. The last feature I will talk about is visual symbols. Parker uses this feature to support the idea of corruption. Corruption plays a big part in the film as the police aid the Ku Klux Klan in their horrible way of inhumanity through violence, towards the African-Americans. We view this in many scenes, even if it is not in the support of corruption, but in support of the ideas racism and fear.
We do see corruption right from the get go, in one of the sequences of the opening scene, where the three civil rights workers get shot and killed. At the start of the scene we see the civil rights workers in the car driving along a long open road, then it cuts to a group of cars following them. Shortly after this we see our first symbol for corruption as one of the following cars has police lights on top. At this stage we just assume that they are coming after them to pull them over for something they might have done wrong.
When they finally stop, the policemen get out and walk over to the car. We see their uniforms and torches, which is another symbol to make us certain that they are policemen. We don’t see any faces at this stage, but when he starts talking, we start thinking that this could be more than a ticket for speeding, as he begins abuses the driver, saying things like, “Jew boy! ” and “Nigger loving jew boy! ” One gunshot is made and the driver is killed, then after this the screen blacks out and we hear more gunshots.
This definitely puts our views into perspective and makes us realise that there would be no one you could trust, if the police are involved in shooting and killing three young men. Another scene we see this in is the one where a young black man collects a bag from the policemen late at night, and straight after this exchange he gets chased in cars, by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The policemen don’t reply to the event, but just stand there and watch the scene happen, as if they were one of us watching the film. This clearly shows corruption through the policemen and why it is such a key idea in the film.
Corruption through inhumanity is relevant today, and is understood in the film through the policemen, as they provoke most of the violence. One example of police corruption was in New Zealand. It was of Arthur Allan Thomas who was convicted twice for murdering Harvey and Jeanette Crewe after two detectives, Bruce Hutton and Len Johnston, planted a cartridge case in the garden of the house where the murders were committed to secure a conviction against him. This shows that corruption is a big part in our society, and shows how heartless and malicious people can be, even if it’s from the least expecting ones.
Again this is why the idea of corruption plays a massive role in the film from start to finish. Parker has been instrumental in creating a skilfully and well put together picture, which makes us think and understand how hateful the whites were to the African-American folks. He shows us his sympathy towards the blacks, to make us feel the same, and teaches us that racism is just plain wrong. We get to see all of this through his visual and verbal features, in which he uses throughout the film to combine with the main idea of man’s inhumanity to man, through racism, fear and corruption.