“The Ghosts of Mississippi”¯ (1996), directed by Rob Reiner is the film that raises a number of socially important issues as well as personal tragedies the main characters of the film encounter in the course of their life. At the same time, the director of the film attempts to show that justice will always win, regardless of time and circumstances. The director attempts to prove this fact through the story of the assassination of Medgar Evers, a black civil rights activist. Medgar Evers was murdered by Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist.
Obviously, the social position, beliefs and activities of Medgar Evers became the major cause of the assassination. Nevertheless, his murderer was trialed twice but both times the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of Byron De La Beckwith. Nevertheless, the widow of the assassinated civil rights activist, Myrlie, is never giving in. She keeps struggling on and on to punish the murderer of her husband.
However, even though thirty years have passed and the time and American society have changed, but Myrlie still cannot prosecute and punish Byron De La Beckwith. Myrlie understands that racial biases and prejudices prevent her from re-establishing the justice. In such a situation, Bobby DeLaughter, an assistant District Attorney, comes to help since he attempts to accomplish the efforts of Myrlie and send Byron De La Beckwith to prison. However, he understand that his efforts threaten to his political career and personal life as his marriage may be under a threat because of his zeal in the trial concerning the assassination of Medgar Evers. Nevertheless, Bobby De Laughter does not give in. Eventually, the trial ends up with Byron De La Beckwith being sent to prison.
On analyzing the story depicted in the film “The Ghosts of Mississippi”¯, it is possible to distinguish several important themes and problems raised by the director. First of all, it is possible to speak about the theme of racial discrimination, which affected the life of Americans throughout decades. It proves beyond a doubt that this theme is central in the film and it can be easily traced from the beginning of the film until the end. In this respect, the assassination of Medgar Evers is the ultimate manifestation of the racial discrimination in the USA. The director apparently attempts to show that the life of African Americans and other minorities was unbearable in the USA because of the racism and discrimination from the part of the dominant white group, which controlled all spheres of the life of the US. In such a context, the two unsuccessful trials perfectly prove the fact that the American society at large, and the American justice system, was extremely biased and discriminatory in relation to the non-white population of the USA. It proves beyond a doubt that it is the African American background of Medgar Evers that makes his murderer, a white supremacist, unpunished for decades. The justice system is dominated by whites that makes the just prosecution of the murderer of a black civil rights activist practically impossible and useless. At the same time, in spite of consistent changes in the American society in the course of time, the justice system as well as upper classes still remains very conservative and racist because the widow of Medgar Evers cannot punish the murderer, while the attempt to send Byron De La Beckwith to prison threatens the future professional success and personal happiness of Bobby De Laughter. Symbolically, the ending of the film implies that justice rules in the contemporary American society, but the director clearly shows that the injustice, prejudice and biases in relation to the non-white population of the USA persists.
Along with the theme of racial discrimination, the director of the film focuses his attention on the personal problem ”“ the desire of punishment, which is closely intertwined with the strife for justice. The widow of Medgar Evers, Myrlie, keeps her struggle on and on, in spite of two failures in the two trials which took place after the death of her husband. Even thirty years later, she continues her struggle and attempts to reestablish the justice. It seems as if she is ready to do everything to punish or revenge on Byron De La Beckwith, but she never uses illegal means of struggle. In such a way, the film reveals the civil side of revenge and punishment, which he contrasts to savage methods of struggle used by white supremacists, like Byron De La Beckwith.
Finally, the critical view on the justice system of the USA is very important because the film reveals numerous drawbacks of the existing justice system. The film clearly shows that these drawbacks have persisted for decades and any attempt to overcome these drawbacks are likely to put under a threat the professional career of a person who attempts to struggle against the “system”¯. At this point, the threat to the future professional career of Bobby DeLaughter is quite symbolic. At the same time, the main message of the film is that it is possible to win and cope with the rigidity and prejudices of the justice system.
In actuality, this film is very interesting to watch and analyze as retrospection on the development of the American justice system and the American society at large. In fact, what attracts me the most in this film is the huge panorama of the conflict between civil rights activists and supremacists. Even though the film does not emphasizes the goals of civil rights activists nor it stresses evil acts of supremacist, but it clearly shows that throughout the decades the US society stayed divided and the problem ofĀ racism persist even today. At any rate, on watching the film, it is hardly possible to get rid of impression that the modern criminal justice system is rather a club of white supremacists than a truly democratic and objective institution. The conservatism of this system, makes it very rigid and, thus, vulnerable to errors which have been made in the case of Medgar Evers. The injustice of the American justice system, which sounds paradoxically, and the indifference of the majority of characters depicted in the film to the grief and personal tragedy in the life of Myrlie is really shocking. It seems to be impossible that a murderer, whatever he/she is, can live and work being free and unpunished for his/her crime. On the other hand, the ending of the story seems to be quite optimistic, if the word “optimistic”¯ can be used in relation to this film at all. However, the important thing is that the director raises questions, we have to answer not only mentally but also through our action and through our struggle against any manifestation of racism.