MISSISSIPI BURNING POSTER

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One of, if not the most defining moments of the 20th Century not just in the United States but also in the rest of the world was when a famous civil rights activist stood tall in front of 250,000 people on August 28th, 1963 and gave a resounding speech on human rights and an end to racism. The man in question certainly needs no introduction. Even though he ended up paying the ultimate price for his cause, his impact will never be forgotten.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a true hero; and where there is a hero, there is a villain. When you’re having a discussion about the worst hate groups to have ever existed in the history of planet earth, the infamous Ku Klux Klan surely should be one of the first to come to mind. The white supremacist group, mainly operating in the southern parts of the U.S, left a lot of chaos, destruction and death in their wake; the group represented the worst of humanity in unimaginable ways.

Alan Parker’s 1988 drama thriller ‘Mississippi Burning‘ is a film that perfectly portrays the horrors that the group caused to helpless African Americans; it would be an understatement to say that it is one of the most cathartic movies I have ever seen. The plot basically revolves around a pair of FBI agents in Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) who are assigned to the fictional Jessup County, Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers. The investigation, however, is met with hostility by the town’s residents, local police, and of course, the Ku Klux Klan.

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Over the course of the film, the FBI agents get to see the devastation that the KKK are causing and each time, the devastation elicits an authentic emotional reaction from Anderson and Ward. There comes a time when the situation gets very personal with Anderson after one of the suspected KKK members they had been closely monitoring, Deputy Clinton Bell of the Sherriff’s office, brutally attacks his wife after realising she had been in bed with Anderson. It’s a situation that culminates to a barbershop where Anderson surprises Deputy Bell and well… here’s a clip of what transpires.

Admittedly, I haven’t watched much of Gene Hackman over the years but this scene just summarizes the high degree of his acting capabilities. The scene pretty much looks real in every single way; from the razor blade cuts to the beating and scolding and that’s why I loved it. As an audience member, you can feel the tension in the barber shop especially from the perspective of Willem Dafoe’s character who could only look on. The tension is perfectly complimented by the anger and ferocity of Anderson as he mercilessly harasses the Deputy both physically and emotionally. The scene’s icing on the cake of course was that final shot of a Bell spinning on the chair after getting the ‘Anderson treatment’; a testament to Alan Parker’s incredible direction as well.

-Thomas Kitinya


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