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Film / Ghosts of Mississippi

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"I don't know if I'm going to heaven or hell. But I'm going from Jackson."
Medgar Evers

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 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:

  • As Himself: Benny Bennett, one of Bobby's investigators (and the son of one of the investigators who tried to convict Bryon back in the sixties), plays himself in the movie.
  • The Atoner: Several witnesses come forward against De La Beckwith after feeling guilty about their involvement and/or not coming forward 30 years before.
  • The 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 wife’s 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 Evers was shot in the back at his own house and with his children just a few feet away.
  • Hero of Another Story: Let’s face it, whichever juror(s) found De La Beckwith guilty in the first two trials were definitely taking a bold stand in mid 60s Mississippi.
  • 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 children’s 30-year struggle for justice.
  • 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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.
  • Walking Armory: Downplayed, but Charlie Crisco, one of Bobby's investigators, carries at least three guns, each of which he offers to Bobby out of concern for his safety.