Film: Neshoba [Neshoba: The Price of Freedom]


Writer/Director: Micki Dickoff (Step by Step: A Journey of Hope)
Genre: Documentary, Civil Rights (2008)

In brief: In June 1964, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were in Neshoba (na-SHOW-ba) County, Mississippi on a campaign to register black voters. They knew the mission was dangerous, which is why they’d promised to call home regularly. When they didn’t, their families reported them missing, and eventually a search was started. That summer, events in Mississippi brought national focus on some long-standing local traditions… killing, intimidation, torture and denial of rights. In August, the bodies of the 3 missing civil rights workers were found buried in a mud damn. But before they were found, a section of the Mississippi River was dredged; turning up 9 more bodies… 9 unreported disappearances. Disappearances and murders were commonplace in Mississippi in 1964. So why were these 3 different? Two of them were white.

As it turned out, it wasn’t that difficult to locate the bodies and piece together the events related to the murders. Secrecy was apparently not a local tradition. With nothing to fear from the law, bragging was a popular pastime. Many Ku Klux Klan members were brought in for questioning, but the state never brought murder charges against anyone. Forty years later, a group of local citizens finally managed to get the case reopened, in an attempt to get justice, closure and the beginnings a healing process. With so many suspects no longer living, the state’s best evidence was against a local preacher, Edgar Ray Killen. So in 2005, the state finally put Killen on trial. A documentary film crew was there to follow all involved. Feelings were high, and most people were not shy about expressing their views.

Whether you remember the details of the events or not, Neshoba is a suspenseful, eye-opening journey. All points of view were aired… from family members of the victims, local citizens, law enforcement and Killen himself. There were those who felt that the state of Mississippi was being put on trial. Some thought it was all a “publicity hoax” or that the victims “asked for it.” Some resented the implications that the KKK is about hate… “it’s about love!” Most comments are tame in comparison to those from Killen himself, a proud and unrepentant racist who felt he was carrying out the "will of God." While the filmmakers clearly had a point of view, they did more than simply document events. They managed to offer us viewpoints from all sides. And that’s why this film is so important. One can only guess how events would have been different if 2 of the victims had not been news worthy… in other words, white.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

This is a coherent, suspenseful retelling of important events. Great storytelling.

Popcorn Diary

Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Somber
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Not that kind of film
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking

 

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