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Film: Mississippi Burning

A 1988 film 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.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Agent Ward, until Mrs. Pell's beating convinces him that playing by the book won't lead to justice.
  • Corrupt Hick
  • Cowboy Cop: Agent Anderson.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: The FBI agent played by Gene Hackman intimidates a member of The Klan who was getting a shave by replacing the barber.
  • Deep South
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Sixties
  • 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.
  • Town with a Dark Secret
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story
  • 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.


Dangerous LiaisonsAcademy AwardWorking Girl
Miracle MileFilms of the 1980sMoonwalker

alternative title(s): Mississippi Burning
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