'Mississippi Burning' Murders, Casey Affleck Joaquin Phoenix 'Documentary'

by Anna Robinson

Neshoba: The Price of Freedom, Micki Dickoff, Tony Pagano

Neshoba: The Price of Freedom will have its US theatrical premiere in New York City on Aug. 13 at Cinema Village. Los Angeles will follow suit on Sept. 10.

Directed by Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano, Neshoba: The Price of Freedom delves into both the legacy and the story behind the disappearance and murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers who became victims of a mob of Klansmen in Neshoba County, Mississippi, at the beginning of the Freedom Summer in June 1964.

Forty-one years later, the state convicted only one man in the killings, 80-year-old Baptist preacher Edgar Ray Killen.

According to the Neshoba: The Price of Freedom press release, Dickoff and Pagano “gained unprecedented access to Killen, following him from shortly after his indictment through his trial. For the first time, the film captures the outspoken views of a Klan member charged with a civil rights murder and takes viewers on a journey into the mindset of a man who still feels the murders were justified as 'self-defense' of a way of life.”

Neshoba also features interviews with the families of the victims and with Neshoba County citizens of various ethnicities and points of view.

The release adds that “the film explores whether the prosecution of one unrepentant Klansman constitutes justice and whether healing and reconciliation are possible without telling the unvarnished truth.”

On August 4, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed partly because of the revulsion over the “Mississippi Burning” murders.

Alan Parker tackled the subject matter in the highly fictionalized (and much criticized) Mississippi Burning (1988), which received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.

I'm Still Here, Casey Affleck's directorial debut about a year in the life of Joaquin Phoenix – it's unclear whether that's a documentary or a mockumentary or both – has been acquired by Magnolia Pictures.

I'm Still Here follows Oscar-nominee Phoenix after he announced his retirement from films in the fall of 2008 and decided to pursue a new career as a bearded, bizarre hip hop musician.

Phoenix, by the way, has been mentioned as a possibility to replace Edward Norton as a hip-hopping Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk in the planned Marvel production The Avengers.

Casey Affleck won scores of best supporting actor awards and was nominated for an Oscar in that category for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2007.

Joaquin Phoenix's two Oscar nods were as best supporting actor for Gladiator in 2000 and as best actor for Walk the Line in 2005.

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Steven Brody -

I've not yet seen the film, but have read numerous interviews by Dickoff and Pagano, and there's often a factual omission that, if included, would strengthen the light that the film shines.

It is incorrect to say that no one was ever charged, and convicted, in the murders of the 3 civil rights workers until Killen's trial. In 1967, 3 years after the murders, 18 men were charged, and 7 convicted, in federal court, with sentences from 3-10 years and no one serving more than 6 years. They were convicted of violating the civil rights of the three, under the US Force Act of 1870.

So, the federal system recognized the obvious crime and went after it. (I'm not a lawyer, so
don't know if they could have sought a tougher conviction, but convictions did occur.) This fact only hightens the flagrant disregard of justice by the State of Mississippi for 40 years.

Terry Thomas -

As a white Andover educated New York liberal football player who went to Vanderbilt University on a full athletic scholarship in 1965 and fell in love there with a brave African American princess, I can attest to the hatred that I saw unleashed against us, not only by my staunchly segregationist, white only, white supremacist, SEC football coaches, but people and Klan police still in control of the local community back there in Nashville during those dark days. In fact, I was threatened at gunpoint by two of Nashville's “finest” and called a Yankee Commie n-lover and queer faggot before I was falsely arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. I was also reminded by these two white-knight crusaders for the absolute separation of rights and everything else that “nobody had been charged with killing them three boys over there in Mississippi - and they wasn't gonna ever get charged with nothing neither, except for maybe violating they's civil rights (guffaw).” Karen Ennis and the ACLU defended me and my Jewish activist friend (Paul Meroukis) pro bono. However, we lost our initial legal challenge to their sick system. But I refused to pay the fine. So, instead I got shipped off to the notorious Metro County Workhouse to await an appeal trial or the posting of my exorbitant appeal bond or enough time spent working on a real Cool-Hand-Luke type chain gang until my unpaid legal fees got covered by money earned at the paltry rate of $2.14 per day! Fortunately, the civil rights community in Nashville (mostly composed of black and enlightened white clergy) rustled up the funds for my appeal bond in just a few days. But not before some terrible terror damage to my cocky young psyche had already been sustained. That's why I can only feel great sadness whenever I think about Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner - just young idealists who meant well and showed great courage when so many “good people” everywhere were saying, “yes it's wrong but just leave it alone, don't try to change things, don't dare rile these people up again, 'cause they will hurt you, boy - oh yes they will.” I can only grieve when I think how brutally and savagely those three soldiers for justice were murdered by some of the most wicked men who used to run much of Southern society back in those days! I can only grieve and thank God that such evil men somehow let me slip through their snares and clutches and flee, back to Long Island, alive, to go on and live a full, good life since then! Thank God Almighty and God bless the memory of Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner. May we never forget their ultimate sacrifice - one that I'm so grateful I didn't have to make. Actually, it's quite likely that the ongoing investigation into their murders actually gave my Klan cop persecutors just enough pause to keep one of them from pulling the trigger on me and putting a bullet through my brain that awful night back in 1968.


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