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‘Burning’ Issues

“Mississippi Burning"--generating critical kudos and awards (like the National Board of Review’s best pic of ’88)--also is catching a lot of flak.

Black leaders like Coretta Scott King and journalists who covered the 1960s civil-rights movement are knocking Alan Parker’s movie for telling the civil rights struggle from a white point of view and for relegating blacks to background and “victim” roles.

Now, producers of “Mississippi Summer” say their movie will rectify Parker’s account. “We’ll be telling the true story--not a fictional one,” promised producer Tova Laiter (the TV movie “Lina: My 100 Children, plus the films “Fire With Fire,” “One More Saturday Night”).

Laiter said “Mississippi Summer” will be based on the true account of the fateful 1964 summer that brought together civil-rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. She believes “Burning’s” fictional account distorts the story of the murders of three civil-rights workers by focusing on white lawmen who solve the murders.

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“I feel it’s a flawed movie about serious subject matter, with a great performance by Gene Hackman. I feel it distorts history.

“To bestow awards on a movie that has twisted the truth does a disservice to young people who don’t know the whole story.”

“We’ll tell a story that has black heroes,” stressed Laiter. (Among them: Chaney.) “Young black people from all over the country got involved. Local blacks put their lives on the line. We’re going to tell that story-- the real story.”

Director Chris Menges (“A World Apart”) is now casting the $10-$12 million “Summer.” Scripted by Stanley Weiser (“Wall Street”), it will shoot on location in Mississippi. Laiter said that dramatic rights have been secured from the families of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner.

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