Film / Mississippi Burning

A 1988 film directed by Alan Parker and very loosely based on the investigation of the murders of three civil rights activists in 1964 Mississippi. Two FBI officers (Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe) must work their way through a hotbed of county-wide lies and deceit, with little support from citizens, to solve the murders.

This Film Contains Examples Of:

  • Badass Bookworm: Agent Ward.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sadly subverted with the attacks on the black community, as none of the FBI agents are able to prevent these attacks.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Discussed when the mayor hangs himself.
    Agent Bird: I don't understand why he did it. He wasn't in on it. He wasn't even Klan.
    Agent Ward: Mr. Bird, (The Mayor) was guilty. Anyone's guilty who lets these things happen and pretends like it isn't. No, he was guilty all right. Just as guilty as the fanatics who pulled the trigger. Maybe we all are.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Agent Ward, until Mrs. Pell's beating convinces him that playing by the book won't lead to justice.
  • Domestic Abuse: Deputy Pell beats up his wife when he finds out that she has helped the FBI.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Mayor
  • False Flag Operation: After he talks to the feds, Lester gets attacked by fellow supremacists in shrouds, chased out in to the woods, and strung up. The FBI agents arrive just in time, chase off the attackers, and save him, telling him he was lucky he was being monitored. They convince him they won't always get there in the nick of time, and that he'd better testify against the others and receive protection from the government. Of course, the attackers are feds in disguise.
  • Grey and Black Morality: Toward the end, once the FBI adopts Anderson's preferred tactics.
  • Groin Attack: Anderson inflicts one on a Klansman.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Deputy Pell's wife informs on The Klan. She gets beaten up for it, but survives.
  • It's Personal: Agent Anderson after Mrs. Pell, to whom he was attracted, is beaten by The Klan for being an informant.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Justified, because many of the cops are in league with the Ku Klux Klan
  • Kangaroo Court: Several Klansmen are tried for arson in a local court that has no intention of imposing any real punishment for the crime.
  • Karma Houdini: Sheriff Stuckey manages to be acquitted in Federal Court in the conviction montage at the end of the movie. And none of the others get more than ten years in prison.
  • The Klan: Featured prominently.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The crooked mayor (played by R. Lee Ermey) gets this in the form a black FBI informant who after telling him the story of a teenager who was castrated by a couple of Klansmen, threatens to castrate him if he doesn't talk. Lester Cowans almost is lynched by his fellow Klansmen who think he will talk. It was actually FBI disguised as Klansmen in order to scare him into talking.
  • Mighty Whitey: The two FBI agents who come in to speak on the behalf of those oppressed and end up bringing national attention to the situation in the South. In truth, the civil rights movement in the area was already thriving and FBI agents investigated the Klan only under heavy pressure from the President.
  • Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: It rates a 7, mainly for the bloody headshot at the beginning. The rest of the violence in the movie is tamer, but still quite brutal.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Many of Ward's well-intentioned, by-the-book actions early in the film make the white population of Jessup County feel angry and threatened, which only makes matters worse for the black community. Anderson calls him out on this, to no avail (at least initially).
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Anderson and Ward, although Ward is apparently Anderson's superior.
  • Politically Correct History: FBI agents as heroes to the Civil Rights Movement. As most historians know, J. Edgar Hoover was no fan of the movement in Real Life and the agency in fact took several notable measures to undermine and sabotage the movement (although individual agents as depicted here, of course, may have had differing views on the situation).
  • Scary Black Man: The FBI brings in a professional Scary Black Man to intimidate the corrupt mayor into revealing who committed a hate crime.
  • The Sheriff: Jessup County's sheriff does not appreciate FBI interference in his county's affairs, since he's in league with the Klan himself.
  • Smug Snake: All of the Klan members, who despite being cocky and dismissive of the FBI, start cracking as the FBI pours on the pressure.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The lovely hymn "When We All Get To Heaven", played over the scenes of yet another vicious Klan attack.
  • Southern Gothic: while nothing supernatural is going on, the film has such a heavy and oppressive atmosphere that at times it borders on becoming a southern gothic.
  • Stoic Spectacles: Agent Ward.
  • Villain Song: Anderson playfully sings a Klan song while he and Ward drive into Mississippi.
    Now, I'm listening you communists, niggas and jews
    Tell all your buddies to spread the news
    Cause the day of judgement will soon been nigh
    As the lord in this wisdom looks down from high
    Will his battle be lost by mixing the races
    We want beautiful babies, not ones with brown faces
    Never, never, never, never, I say
    Cause the Ku Klux Klan is here to stay:
    Never, never, never, never, I say
    Cause the Ku Klux Klan is here to stay:
Anderson: I hope these Ku Kluxers are better at lynchings than they are at lyrics.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Klan appears to be this among the white citizens of Jessup County, although Mrs. Pell probably isn't the only one who doesn't like the violence but is too frightened to speak up.