Ghosts of Mississippi is a 1996 film based on the true story of the trial(s) of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers.
The film was directed by Rob Reiner and stars Alec Baldwin as prosecuting attorney Bobby DeLaughter, James Woods as Byron De La Beckwith, and Whoopi Goldberg as Merlie Evers. There are also some memorable early performances by William H. Macy and Margo Martindale.
Filming also took place almost immediately after De La Beckwith was found guilty in 1994 and was filmed in Jackson at many of the actual locations. Byron De La Beckwith himself was sitting in jail just a few blocks away while filming was taking place.
Despite all of this, the film was not a success.
This film provides examples of:
- The Atoner: Several witnesses come forward against De La Beckwith after feeling guilty about their involvement and/or not coming forward 30 years before.
- Based on a True Story
- Cameo: Medgar Evers' sons played the parts of Medgar Evers' grown sons. Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter played the part of Medgar Evers' grown daughter.
- Dirty Coward: De La Beckwith. He murders Medgar Evers by shooting him in the back while he's getting out of his car in his driveway.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Byron is shown getting fighting mad at reporters for putting lights in his elderly wifes face and is later shown playfully fooling around with her as he waits for the jury to deliberate. He also plays patty cake with his granddaughter as they do.
- Even Evil has Standards: even some hard-core racists were horrified that he shot him in the back at his own house and with his children just a few feet away
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Bobby DeLaughter. He would later be convicted of accepting bribes as a circuit court judge and spent 18 months in prison as a result. However, the bribery charges happened in 2008, 12 years after the film.
- Karma Houdini: Played with. Initially, Byron De La Beckwith only gets off for murdering Medgar Evers because of two hung juries, lack of witnesses (at the time), and the missing evidence, playing this straight. However, when the case is reopened and witnesses come forward, the trope is subverted, leading to Laser-Guided Karma when he's convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
- Mighty Whitey: One of the big criticisms of the movie is that the focus is on Bobby DeLaughter as the hero prosecutor and even the subplot is about his love life, as opposed to making the focus of the film Merlie and her childrens 30-year struggle for justice.
- Reality Ensues: De La Beckwith knew at the first trials that all he had to do was get one white juror in Mississippi to find him not guilty, and so believes that even one of the black jurors may sympathize with him due to his age. Obviously, they didn't.
- Smug Snake: Byron De La Beckwith. Ultimately, it's what brought him down, as the physical evidence from the first two trials was unchanged, but many witnesses who'd heard him bragging about getting away with the murder testified against him too.
- Society Marches On: The premise of the film. The first two trials had all-white male juries and resulted in mistrials (which means at least one juror found him guilty), but, in 1994, the third trial had eight black and four white jurors.