I am back, trying to squeeze in one more post before the end of the month to feel productive, instead of like the lazy summer slug I feel like. For this weeks Reel, I hit the theater, which is a rarity for me.
This weeks Reel is 2016's FREE STATE OF JONES
Farmer, turned reluctant Confederate soldier, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey)is sick of fighting a war in which he has no stake. He owned no slaves and didn't grow cotton. He is also repulsed by both the killing and the looting of local farms by the Confederacy, which they called a "tax", but left women and children with no food stores for the winter. During a particularly bloody skirmish, Newton flees, and with the help of Slaves and other deserters both Men & Women, waged a Rebellion. In 1864 they took over the town of Ellis and renamed it FREE STATE OF JONES.
Knight began a relationship with his grandfather's former slave Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). His wife Serena (Keri Russell), after being burned out of her home also moves to JONES.
Newton and his rag-tag group not only become a town, they become a family of sorts. They continue to fight against the until the fall of the Confederacy. Even with the end of the War FREE STATE OF JONES has to fight the ashes of the Civil War, in the form of the KKK, Reconstruction, sharecropping and the Black Vote.
For a lot of Whites in Mississippi, the fact that Newton lived and worked side by side with the Black people of JONES was more of a betrayal than fighting against the Confederacy.
His descendants feel the sting even today. His children by Rachel are shunned by both sides of his family and called Newton's Negroes.
FREE STATE OF JONES was surprisingly balanced and thoughtful. More shocking was Matthew McConaughey's portrayal of Newton Knight. He softened his usual over the top drawl and delivered a believable performance. Normally I tend to be reluctant when it comes to movies about Slavery. Gugu Mbatha-Raw was a huge selling point for me, because she's an incredible actor. That being said it's still very much a double edge sword. You want to support movies with POC, but at the same time we want to see all sides of who we are. Diverse, complex, multi-dimensional. We have other stories besides the Slave narrative. Not only that, it's painful to watch. A comedian once said "Black people watching movies about Slavery is like a Cow watching how Beef is made". That is so true. POC have a myriad of stories to tell. Native Americans are more than the stoic Warrior or Shamans or living in the past. Asians are more than Mystics and Martial Arts.Those stories are only part of POC's Rich & varied human tapestries.
That being said, FREE STATE OF JONES was an important story and one I had not heard. For that alone, I recommend it.