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Burning Mad Over Film



Burning Mad Over Film


Article printed in Newsday criticizing the film "Mississippi Burning."


Queens College (New York, N.Y.)
Civil Rights--Mississippi--History--20th century
Motion pictures--Reviews.


Douglas, Williams




Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives (New York, N.Y.)



Date Created



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Spatial Coverage

Queens (New York,N.Y)


Newsday, Friday, March 3, 1989
Actor Willem Defoe, center in the movie, "Mississippi Burning." Some Civil rights leaders say it's not accurate.
Burning Mad Over Film
By William Douglas
Judith Rollins was burned up by "Mississippi Burning."
Paraphrasing a Langston Hughes poem, Rollins, who was a civil rights worker in Mississippi in the 1960s, said, "The done taken my movement and gone."
"The film suggests that American government supported the civil rights movement and that the FBI supported the civil rights movement," said Rollins, now a sociology professor at Boston's Simmons College. "This is a great distortion."
About 1,500 people filled a screening room at Queens College's Colden Center yesterday to see "Mississippi Burning" and to hear discussions on the film by its producer, a Mississippi civil rights leader, and a relative of one of the three men whose murders the film is based on.
The movie, based on the 1964 slaying of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney, has been hailed by many film critics as an emotionally-charged drama with powerful performances worthy of its oscar nominations.
But many civil rights leaders, blacks, and some film critics have panned the movie, claiming its producer twisted the Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner story to make the film more palatable to white audiences. Queens College officials showed the film yesterday because of the school's connection to the Mississippi case. Goodman was a 20-year-old student at the college when he decided to joint the Mississippi Freedom Summer after hearing one of its recruiters, Aaron Henry, speak on campus.
Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were driving in Mississippi's Neshoba County on June 21, 1964, when they were seized by Ku Klux Klan members, some of whom were law enforcement officers. The FBI located the bodies of the three men 44 days later buried in a local dam site.
Of the films nominated for this year's Academy Awards, none has generated as much controversy as "Mississippi Burning."
Frederick Zollo, the film's producer, said he was pleased with the controversy surrounding the film, but said he was surprised by the intensity of the criticism.
" I am pleased, in a sense, that the film is causing a reaction. That's why I make films," Zollo said after the showing of the movie. " No one play or book or story can answer all the questions its tries to."
Julia Chaney Moss, James Chaney's sister, said she disliked the film because it distorts history.
"This film must be seen from the very beginning, if not, you'll miss the disclaimer that it is a fictionalization," Moss said. "It is probably the only truth imparted [in the film]."
However, she also said that the film "really captures the emotional parts in terms of the 60's. For me, it's personal and a bit too emotional,"
Rollins, who was also on the panel, called the movie "profoundly offensive," citing the lack of character development of blacks in the film. She also said blacks were portrayed as passive victims. "The message comes through is that white people are worth more than black people," Rollins said.

Original Format

8.5 x 11 inches (216 x 279 mm)


Douglas, Williams, “Burning Mad Over Film,” Queens College Civil Rights Archives, accessed May 17, 2022, http://archives.qc.cuny.edu/civilrights/items/show/280.