In 1970, the town of Charleston, Mississippi, allowed black students into their white high school, but refused to integrate the senior prom. Twenty-seven years later, Charleston resident and Academy Award–winning actor Morgan Freeman offered to finance the prom–under the condition it be integrated. His offer was ignored. In 2008, Freeman made the offer again. This time the school board accepted, and history was made.
PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI traces the tumultuous events leading up to Charleston’s first integrated prom through intimate conversations with students, families, faculty members and Freeman himself. As the film unfolds, we delve deeply into the heated race issues that tear apart this tiny community, and realize that this troubling segregation has less to do with the students than their parents. Ultimately, PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI captures a big moment in a small town, where hope finally blossoms in black, white and a whole lot of taffeta.
When watching this documentary you can’t help but think “wow, really?” This documentary took place a scant two years ago and the mere idea that there were still segregated…well, anything seems like something that should’ve gone out of existence by the 60s. That’s really all I could take away from this production at the end of its 89 minute runtime. The fact such a situation even existed and that it took someone like Morgan Freeman to clear it up just seems absolutely ridiculous. That seems to be the general reaction amongst those interviewed for this documentary as well—that it was kind of incredulous it was even still going on.
The main argument the film makes is that it was just something that still existed and either no one attempted to get it changed or those in charge of the school board just didn’t want to combine the black and white proms. There is still plenty of racism – from both sides – present in this film, but its remarkable how the parents could have raised children that ended up being a driving force behind getting this segregated wall between the proms torn down. It’s inspiring to watch, but at the same time it just makes you shake your head at the stupidity of it all.
Not to say the documentary isn’t worth watching, of course. Freeman comments frequently, although most of it is driven by interviews of the town’s inhabitants, high school students and their parents included. It’s enlightening to see the mindset of individuals in states like Mississippi, which aren’t necessarily as “adaptive” as those on the coasts. This isn’t slander towards the south or “hicks,” of course, it’s just the way they mindset is in those regions. As one person interviewed in this documentary stated, it’s all due to how you’re raised and until a generation exists that chooses to ignore race, things like segregation will still be things that hang around. Of course if the youths interviewed in this documentary are any indication, Charleston, Mississippi now has that generation and as this prom proved, things have changed.
Overall a Recommended production, even if the camera work is sometimes sketchy (which isn’t a comment on the hand-held footage the students shot, but more so the interviews with Freeman who seem to be filmed by someone who is jacked up on coffee and can’t stand still).
The DVD arrives in a standard single disc Amaray DVD case with an insert advertising other docuramafilms releases. Disc art mimics the cover art and the menu is incredibly simple in production and navigation. Video is fine for this likely very-low budget production and is interlaced quite a bit…but other than that it looks solid. Audio is a stereo mix but, again, it’s a low-budget flick and seeing as it is 99% dialogue, stereo does just fine.
Extras are limited, but include:
Deleted Scenes (18 min)
Interview with the Filmmakers (22 min)
Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
Not an over-abundant selection of extras, but still solid nonetheless. Deleted scenes are worth checking out as even if they don’t really apply to anything in general, seeing more footage of the towns people is incredibly interesting (obviously, otherwise the documentary itself wouldn’t be worth watching). Overall this is a Rental disc, simply because I doubt it’s something that you’ll want to watch more than once.
Prom Night in Mississippi arrives on DVD on January 26th.