I’m pleased to announce that The Free State of Jones (2016), directed by Gary Ross and produced by STX Entertainment, has returned to NETFLIX for another run!
If you’re planning to watch or simply interested in learning more about this true story, you can revisit the controversies surrounding the movie—and my responses to them— by clicking to this two-part interview conducted by David Walsh and Joanne Laurier in 2016 for the World Socialist Web Site, published July 12, part I, and July 13, part II, 2016.
“The records were full of evidence of dissent and insurrections by common people”
An interview with Victoria Bynum, historian and author of
The Free State of Jones
From The Introduction, David Walsh and Joanne Laurier:
The Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross, powerfully and movingly recounts a significant episode of the American Civil War, the insurrection against the Confederacy led by Newton Knight, a white, antislavery farmer in Jones County in southern Mississippi from 1863 to 1865.
Audiences have been generally warm and receptive. However, Ross’s film has met with a hostile response from commentators who see society and history in exclusively racial terms, like Charles Blow of the New York Times (whose own lead film reviewer, A. O. Scott, to his credit, gave the film positive marks), Vann Newkirk II in the Atlantic and countless others. Free State of Jones is a blow to the practitioners of identity politics because it presents this revealing episode in American history in terms of class conflict.
Moreover, the fraternity of well-paid, thoroughly self-satisfied film critics, white and black alike, quite rightly perceive in Free State of Jones a social and political threat: that the interracial revolt against inequality and aristocratic privilege in the 1860s will find an echo in our day.
Free State of Jones has absurdly been characterized as advancing some sort of “white savior” mythology because it honestly presents the response of common people in Mississippi, inspired by the traditions of the American Revolution, to the reactionary project of Southern secession. This cuts across the effort in particular to paint the white population in America, past and present, as hopelessly backward and racist.
Whatever the immediate commercial fate of Ross’s film, it will have a long shelf life. Those who are serious about American history and contemporary social life will find in it both education and inspiration.
From the Interview, Victoria Bynum:
In my work, I have tried to expose the good-old-boy trope for what it is—an effort to paint backcountry Southern Unionists as non-ideological simple folk who didn’t want to fight for either side, and just wanted to be left alone. There’s a certain amount of truth to that: they did want to left alone, but it wasn’t true that they didn’t support either side. They took a clear stand for the federal government and the Union.
Categories: The Free State of Jones