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Film / Free State of Jones

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Free State of Jones is a 2016 film chronicling the little-known story of Newton Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey), a white farmer in Mississippi who led an armed revolt by disgruntled farmers and escaped slaves against the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Together, they declare that Jones County, Mississippi and the surrounding region is "the free state of Jones", seceding from the Confederacy.

This series provides examples of:

  • Artistic License History: Serena Knight actually left shortly before her death in 1889, rather than living out her life with Newt. It's possibly because he had begun an affair with Rachel's daughter (from a previous relationship), who at the time was fairly young (the film does not mention this). They later had children, like he'd done with Rachel. This omission ends up painting Newt in a better light. It's also unclear if the Knight Company actually flew the Union flag (one Northern newspaper reported this, but no other sources do) or engaged in full on battles with the Confederates.
  • Badass Boast: Subverted, after killing the colonel, Newt doesn't give a triumphant speech, but rather just says "Let's go."
  • The Bad Guy Wins: While the Free State of Jones holds off the Confederates, who lose the civil war, later the peace is lost, as ex-Confederates in the South use every possible means (legal or illegal) to disenfranchise the former slaves and retake power.
  • Based on a True Story: Although the specific plot details are fiction, the basics really happened.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: One of the men in the Knight Company is later shown with the group who tries to prevent black people and white sympathizers from voting. He is eating peanuts, shells of which were also seen under Moses's hanging corpse, implying he was involved with the lynching.
  • Composite Character: Moses is completely fictional, and based off of more than one escaped slave that Newt met.
  • Cultural Rebel: Newt and the other white Southerners who rebel against the Confederacy, breaking with the majority. His Aunt Sally is also an abolitionist who helps slaves escape, while Newt comes to oppose slavery as well.
  • Defector from Decadence: Newton Knight, who leads Jones County in rebellion against the Confederacy along with a number of other disillusioned Confederate deserters.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: It's pretty clear to anyone who knows about the events after the American Civil War that the freedmen and white supporters such as Newton Knight will not make out well. For Newt, his "victory" is simply surviving, while former slave Moses is not so lucky.
  • Downer Ending: Although the Free State of Jones manages to hold out to the end when the Confederates lose the civil war and slavery is abolished, former Confederates retake control of the South, murdering the former slaves who try to assert their rights, while suppressing the votes of them and white supporters like Knight. Sadly, Truth in Television.
  • Enemy Mine: The Free State of Jones tries to make common cause with the Union Army based on this, but get little support.
  • Groin Attack: The Klansmen castrate Moses before hanging him.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: The issue at Davis Knight's trial is whether his great-great grandmother was Rachel or Serena Knight. Assuming the former, he would be "colored" under Mississippi state law and thus forbidden to marry a white women, as Rachel was mixed race. If the latter, he would be white and thus freed. The prosecutor lampshades how unusual this is, as generally it would be the father whose identity isn't clear. Eventually the Knight family Bible is uncovered, revealing that it was Rachel. David is therefore convicted (though it's later reversed on appeal). All this based on the "one drop" rule where anyone who had a black ancestor was subject to racist laws, even when (like him) they are fully white passing
  • Instant Death Bullet: People are seen immediately dropping and plopping down dead during a charge by the Confederates after the Union infantry open fire on them, even without getting shot through the brain.
  • Karma Houdini: All of the Confederate officers and slave owners get off scot-free, having only to swear loyalty to the United States. Their former nemesis Lieutenant Barbour later becomes a judge, using this office to get former slaves into coerced "apprenticeships" that amount to slavery in all but name. Newt manages to buy Moses' son out of his.
  • The Klan: The KKK is shown during the Reconstruction years, murdering blacks who try to vote or register others such as Moses. Unfortunately they succeed in largely preventing them from voting.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Newt's relationship with Rachel, though technically they were never married. Plus their great-great grandson's, which results directly from the above as he qualifies as "colored" under Mississippi state law, thus barring him from marrying a white woman legally.
  • The Medic: Newt serves as one while in the Confederate Army, but can't save his young nephew. This causes him to desert.
  • Mighty Whitey: Downplayed eventually. While Newt does arm the escaped group of slaves and becomes the leader even when other white Southerners join in, once Jones becomes a free state they decide that they should have no leader.
  • Off on a Technicality: The Mississippi Supreme Court engineered this to save the state's miscegenation law from a constitutional challenge, overturning Davis Knight's conviction on technical grounds.
  • One-Drop Rule: Davis Knight (Newton Knight's descendant) gets put in jail by the Mississippi government on grounds of unlawful marriage (read: his great-grandmother was black, and the racist system hates mixed marriages) in the wrap-around plot, which takes place in The '60s.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Newt and Moses both appear to be devout Christians, invoking God at numerous points. Both of them are also badass resistance fighters against the CSA who lead the revolt in Jones County.
  • Rebellious Rebel: The film centers on a group of disgruntled white farmers and fugitive slaves rising up to fight the Confederacy, which itself was deemed the "rebels". Jones County, Mississippi secedes from the Confederacy just as the Confederate States did.
  • Shown Their Work: Although there are some minor inaccuracies (and lots of gaps that were filled in, as the historical record for these events is thin) the film is among the most accurate ever released about the Civil War, with numerous historians consulting (one even being a descendant of Newton Knight himself).
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Newt comes to believe this after seeing how the slaves are treated (he doesn't own any himself, like many other poor Southern farmers during that period) and his Aunt Sally helps slaves escape into the swamps. The former slaves naturally agree, with Moses proclaiming that "You cannot own a child of God", to Newt's quiet approval.
  • War Is Hell: Newt firmly believes this after having seen fighting up close, carrying wounded soldiers off to surgery, in contrast with others who believe they fight for honor, and feels that his nephew was killed for nothing.