Sneaking ‘Burning’

When “Mississippi Burning” was sneak-previewed last week at the UA Northpark 10 Cineplex near Jackson, Miss., Charles Tisdale came away with a perspective on the movie different from what we’ve been getting in much of the mainstream press. Tisdale, editor-publisher of the “very political” black weekly the Jackson Advocate, found the film largely “inconsequential.” He also contends that things are “20 times worse today” for blacks in Mississippi than in the early 1960s, when civil rights activism sparked deadly backlash--the subject of the movie.

“It’s inconsequential (as history), except for calling attention to what’s going on in the state now, which officials are trying to smooth over,” Tisdale said in a telephone conversation that was interrupted by line interference that he insisted was a routine police tap. “Times are very difficult for blacks here, both economically and in terms of police brutality. Someone should come down now and do the real ‘Mississippi Burning.’ ”

Tisdale credits the film makers with doing a fair job of recounting what happened to three slain civil rights workers but contends the film overlooks the state government’s “role in covering up the murders.” And “the rest of the story line is unrealistic as it reflects that black people had little to do with the long, hot summer of ’64--when in fact black people organized the long, hot summer of ’64.”

Like some mainstream critics, Tisdale was irked watching civil rights history shown from a white point of view--Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe star as FBI agents investigating the brutal slayings--with blacks relegated to the background. “It doesn’t show black people as people, but as victim symbols.”


Tisdale said that the Jackson area sneak, in a 395-seat theater, was “well-attended,” with an even mix of blacks and whites. The crowd, “very reserved,” applauded only once. But he felt that the audience “in general appreciated the movie.”

One theater employee, Tisdale said, indicated that “Mississippi Burning” could run several months at the Cineplex.

“It (the movie) is going to anger some people, mainly white people,” Tisdale predicted. “No doubt about it.”