Thursday, April 22, 2010

Prom Night In Mississippi (2009)

Authors note: I started writing this review on April 10. I was anticipating it being finished by the next day. But, as it often is, the best laid plans of mice and men often go arwy. I finished half of the review, but was unable to finish the other half until about five minutes ago. My real life got in the way, and I have been busy. My goal is to become more regular with this blog in the coming months.
Also, I'm not really happy with the way this review is written. I do not feel that it is my best work. But check it out anyway, and tell me what you think. Now that I've gotten that message out of the way, (and everyone has likely stopped reading by now), on with the review:

I’m a fan of documentaries. They are always interesting to watch, shedding light on interesting people and events. I also watch documentaries that bring important issues to the forefront of the Western consciousness, that call for changes in the way our society acts. Prom Night in Mississippi, directed by Paul Saltzman, falls into the latter category, with a story of discrimination that is sadly still common today.

I watched the documentary this week after reading the latest news story about Constance McMillen. McMillen, for those who haven’t been paying attention, went to the administration of the Itawamba County School District asking permission to take her girlfriend to the senior prom and to wear a tuxedo. How does this school district in 2010 respond? By canceling the prom and trying to blame McMillian for it. After rightfully getting sued by the ACLU for this, the school reinstates the regular prom, but organizes a private prom for the rest of the student body, presumably so they don’t have to be in the same room as a same-sex couple. Total number of students attending the school sponsored prom: seven. The theme of separate proms runs both in the film and this recent news story, showing that some places in America still have a long way to go before equality for all can be achieved.

Charleston, Mississippi was one of the last places in America to desegregate high schools (this happened in 1970). But, one of the last things that remained segregated was the senior prom. The schools would hold a prom for both black and white students. In 1997, Morgan Freeman, a resident of Charleston, heard about this, and spoke out against these proms. He even made the school board an offer – he’d pay for the prom if they integrated it. He was turned down. Students started to pressure the school board, and finally, in 2008, the school accepted Freeman’s offer.

The documentary looks at the struggles that people had in making the integrated prom a reality. The school and students have to deal with pressure from certain groups of parents and students, who don’t want the prom to go on. Some students, who were speaking out against the racism, were interviewed in shadow, obviously worried about the potential harm that could happen to them if their identity was public. Many of the students were open to the idea of the prom. It was the parents that were against it. A group of white parents even held a whites-only prom in private, similar to what happened in the McMillan case. Saltzman is unable to film inside the white-prom, but finds a creative way around it. Whenever Saltzman can’t film an event, the film will shift in art style. He will have a person relate what happened, and show the events in stylized comic form. It is a creative idea for a documentary filmmaker to use in order to work around the limitations he may encounter.

There is one really interesting story in the film, concerning the interracial couple at the prom. The film interviews the father of the white girl, who is going to the prom with her black boyfriend. The father admits that he is prejudiced, and he has problems with his prejudice, but he will do anything for his daughter. It is powerful stuff, and gives the documentary an emotional centre.
At the end, the prom goes well. Prom Night in Mississippi was an interesting film, and very eye-opening. It shows that we still have a long way to go for true equality to happen, but we see that each passing generation is making changes, and doing their best to make bigotry a thing of the past. But, work still needs to be done to ensure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, are able to receive the same rights that the majority of the population has.

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