Mississippi Burning
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FAQ Contents

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Mississippi Burning can be found here.

When three civil rights workers go missing in Jessup County, Mississippi, two FBI agents are sent to investigate. Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) takes a by-the-book approach to the investigation, while Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman), once a sheriff in Mississippi before joining the FBI and a Democrat, is familiar with the local culture and not above bending the rules. Soon enough, however, Ward learns that Anderson justice is the only justice that works. Then he breaks all the constitutional rights he set out to protect.

Mississippi Burning is loosely based on a real incident in which FBI agents John Proctor and Joseph Sullivan investigated the murders of three civil right workers—Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney—in the state of Mississippi in 1964. The screenplay for the movie was written by American writer Chris Gerolmo.

Because Ward's way wasn't working. Every time he went to talk to someone, they ended up being a target for the Klan.

Ward and Anderson bring in Lester Cowens (Pruitt Taylor Vince) for questioning. They then tell Deputy Clinton Pell (Brad Dourif) that Lester gave them blow-by-blow details about what happened to the three civil rights workers. That night, a group of Klan members storm Lester's house and string him up for a hanging. Ward and Anderson how up just in time to stop the hanging, and this time Lester talks. One by one, the rest of the group are brought in—Frank Bailey (Michael Rooker), Floyd Swilley (Marc Clement), Sheriff Ray Stuckey (Gailard Sartain), Wesley Cooke (Stephen Bridgewater), and Clayton Townley (Stephen Tobolowsky). All except Sheriff Stuckey are found guilty of violating civil rights laws and sentenced to 3-10 years in prison. Stuckey is acquitted, and Mayor Tilman (R. Lee Ermey) is found hanged in his basement. When asked why Tilman hanged himself when he wasn't a part of the murders, Ward replies, "Anyone's guilty who watches this happen and pretends it isn't...just as guilty as the fanatics who pulled the trigger." Prior to leaving town, Anderson stops at the Pell house to find it in shambles. He asks Mrs Pell (Frances McDormand) what her plans are, and she assures him that she intends to stay right there, knowing that there are many people in town who think that what she did was the right thing to do. In the final scene, Ward and Anderson attend a burial. The camera pans across the cemetery, coming to rest on a broken gravestone, the only words visible being "1964...not forgotten."

The movie doesn't explain, so viewers have offered two suggestions: (1) KKK members did it in retaliation for her talking to Anderson, and (2) the FBI searched the house and left it in that condition.

We aren't told. Viewers have suggested that it belonged to James Chaney, the black civil rights worker slain by the KKK. Others think it doesn't belong to anyone in particular but is merely a symbolic gesture to show that the events of 1964 will not be forgotten. Still others postulate that it was both—Chaney's grave and a symbolic gesture to the viewers.

High on the list of recommendations by those who liked Mississippi Burning is In the Heat of the Night (1967), in which a Black detective from Philadelphia is asked to investigate a murder in a racist Mississippi town. Another TV movie about the murders of the civil rights workers is Murder in Mississippi (1990). Other recommended movies dealing with Caucasian American racism toward Black Americans include: The Intruder (1962), Nothing But a Man (1964), A Time to Kill (1996), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), and Rosewood (1997).

Mrs Pell's home was trashed out as a result of the aftermath of cheating on her husband. At the end of the movie she tells Agent Anderson "I'm not going anywhere, I was born here I'll die here." so she stays with the house and the mess is the end result of the beating she took


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