Ghosts of Mississippi

Rated R –language
Alec Baldwin as DA Bobby DeLaughter
Ghosts of Mississippi tells the true story of Mississippi assistant District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter's (Alec Baldwin) bringing to trial for a third time racist murderer Byron De la Beckwith (James Woods), 30 years after the slaying of civil rights worker Medgar Evers. Whoopi Goldberg plays the widow of Evers, who has been keeping the case alive for 30 years. Rob Reiner directed.

Politically, this is an important film telling a story that needs telling. Not the least of its messages is the point that Mississippi, the most hardcore of the once segregationist southern states, has finally come to terms with the change that Evers and others like him helped bring about. Today's reality is that it is possible for a Black victim of a white crime to get justice in Mississippi, even if it was delayed 30 years (two trials before all-white all-male juries shortly after the crime ended in hung juries both times).

James Woods is being promoted for an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of De la Beckwith, and he's probably due for one. The acting is good, but the part is probably less demanding than most best-actor parts. De la Beckwith is a lifelong bigot; aging Woods to 70 might be worth a nomination for the film's makeup people, but this is not a man who went through any transformation. Likewise, the movie as a whole, while good, is less than great. It turns into a courtroom drama in the end, with the outcome a foregone conclusion. And the liberal cliche of presenting all the Blacks as heroic and most of the whites as suspect if not outright racist, also hovers over it. It may or may not be a true cliche; cliches do not in any case great works of literature make. See it; but if you've been watching all the hype, lower your expectations.

 

Photo by the film's distributor

1997, Jon Kennedy