In 1964, civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner travelled to Mississippi to register black voters. While in Neshoba County, they were savagely murdered by a mob of local Klansmen and police officers. Though the state refused to bring murder charges against anyone for the homicides, the federal government convicted numerous men of civil rights violations, although each served just a few years in prison. Four decades later, with the community still bitterly divided along racial lines, a multi-ethnic community group came together with a mind to heal the pain and emotional scars still felt in the area because of these unsolved slayings. Through their perseverance, Edgar Ray Killen, a Baptist minister and local bigwig, was forced to face manslaughter charges in court for the deaths of the three young men 40 years before. Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano’s documentary Neshoba: The Price of Freedom tells this sweeping, powerful story with a conciseness that packs an emotional and philosophical wallop.
The movie takes an unflinching look at the undiluted racism of 1964, offering numerous instances of archival hate-filled speeches. But we’re also quickly introduced to the still-living family members of the three slain civil-rights workers left behind, and they, along with the community as a whole, become the emotional center of the film. This smartly turns what could have become a lengthy and involved dissection of racism into an intimate, visceral portrait of families, as well as members of a community, looking for justice. Not to mention the people of the area that would rather forget that the events ever happened at all, including Killen himself -- a repellent figure with a Dickensian last name -- who gladly tells the directors on camera exactly why it was right for those murders to have occurred.
The editing is functional, laying out the story with a crispness not unlike great newspaper writing. We never feel like we’re being lectured at, and we’re given the most important facts we need right at the moment we need them. This workmanlike approach is the right choice because the story itself is so thoroughly upsetting. The directors let the outrage and frustration of the town and the victims’ families speak -- there is no need for them to hint at where they stand on the issue, or to whip the audience into a frenzy of righteous indignation, although some viewers may understandably get there without the assist.
There is also a healthy reality check that runs throughout the movie. Neshoba County in 2004 is still segregated in profound ways; a visit to the annual country fair offers a striking lesson in how the town remains separate but unequal. And it’s exactly those conditions you hope might change after seeing a movie like this. Neshoba: The Price of Freedom isn’t going to change the world, but it does offer a clear example of how justice is among the most powerful steps to genuine community that America offers, even if it can’t cure all of society’s ills.
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- Released: 2010
- Rating: NR
- Review: In 1964, civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner travelled to Mississippi to register black voters. While in Neshoba County, they were savagely murdered by a mob of local Klansmen and police officers. Though the state refus… (more)