Monday, July 3, 2017

Free State of Jones

Year 9, Day 184 - 7/3/17 - Movie #2,678

BEFORE: I'm taking a break from the Netflix Animation Raid for a little American history lesson.  I know, it's only July 3, but this is as close as I could get my acknowledgement of the holiday to the 4th.  (Sure, I could just delay this posting and date it tomorrow, but I'd only be fooling myself.). Matthew McConaughey carries over from "Kubo and the Two Strings" and he'll also be my link back to animation tomorrow.  Hey, when a film doesn't present many linking opportunities, sometimes I've got to sandwich it between two films starring its most prominent actor.  Mmm....sandwich...

So I set out today to have the most American (sorry, 'Murican) day I could have.  I'm on the third day of a four-day weekend, that's a good start.  (Of course, working on the holiday weekend is also very 'Murican, gots to get the double overtime and pay them bills.).  So I slept in and then went out for a bacon cheeseburger (muy 'Murican) and some sweet potato fries - think about it, French fries are European, Belgian to be exact (not French, ironically) but sweet potato fries are uniquely American.  People came here from distant lands and found corn, squash and sweet potatoes - tons and tons of sweet potatoes - and how can we make them appetizing?  Fry them, of course.  'Murica.  Washed it down with a Coca-Cola (check) and then went grocery shopping.  Consumerism.   And when my wife gets home, we'll probably go out to eat - buying groceries and then dining out seems so American I can't stand myself.  Maybe later I'll watch a baseball game, have a slice of apple pie and explode in a firework of patriotism.  Hey, you celebrate the Fourth of July your way, and I'll do it mine.

And every TV station seems to have a different way to celebrate July 4, too.  One is running all the "Rocky" movies, another all the "Rambo" films, while other patriotic films screening include "Forrest Gump", "Independence Day", "Armageddon" and the first two "Captain America" films.  Turner Classic Movies probably has the easiest time of all, since they've got almost 100 years of patriotic movies to choose from - they're going with "West Side Story" (for the song "America", of course), "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", and the triumvirate of "Yankee Doodle Dandy", "1776" and "The Music Man".  Damn, they've shown me up once again.

THE PLOT: A disillusioned Confederate army deserter returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters and women in an uprising against the corrupt local Confederate government.

AFTER: Of course, I was hard pressed to find a film about the Revolutionary War, because I've already seen "The Patriot" and "1776" and other films set near to that period, like "Amistad".  I had to settle for a film set during the Civil War, but we work with what we have (another very 'Murican concept).  This can also be seen in the story of Newton Knight, founder of the Free State of Jones.  Now, was he a renegade survivalist outlaw, or just a free-thinking man ahead of his time?  The debate rages.

There's another American concept that Knight exemplifies - one that's not explicitly stated in the Declaration of Independence, but it's implied somewhere after "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", and it's as follows: "If you don't like the game, then change the rules."  You could say our whole country was founded on that premise.  We could have continued on as a British colony, but we didn't like paying taxes without representation, so we rebelled and changed the rules.  And then the first thing we did after writing a Constitution was to make amendments to it, so that future generations would get that concept as well - "If things aren't working well, change the rules."

Knight wasn't happy working with the medical corps on the Civil War battlefields, especially after learning that the Confederacy had passed a rule exempting men from plantation owners' families from military service, based on how many slaves they owned.  So the richest people were being allowed to not serve in the war, and the poorest people were dying to defend the property of the rich.  Meanwhile, the Confederate troops were taking livestock and supplies from farms as needed, calling them "taxes".  So after teaching some women-folk how to fire guns and defend their land, he escaped into the Mississippi swamps with a party of escaped slaves.  After the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863, more deserters joined him in the swamp and they formed their own ongoing revolt, calling a section of southeast Mississippi the "Free State of Jones" and living according to their own moral code.  It seems only fair, if the southern states were allowed to secede from the U.S. that if someone should disagree with them, they should be allowed to secede from the Confederacy....

They didn't get much help from the Union army, but they were able to hold out until the end of the war, possibly because the Confederate Army couldn't split their resources and fight a war on two fronts.  Plus, nobody wanted to go into the swamps and fight the deserters, even if they had a good barbecue pit going, with whole roasted hogs.  Mmm....whole hog....

After the war, the difficult Reconstruction era is depicted here, with Newton Knight acting like Mark Wahlberg's police officer in "Patriots Day" - he's everywhere important that he needs to be, in order to tell this story.  When slavery is revived with the "apprenticeship" laws, he's there to fight it.  When former slaves need to be rallied to vote in the election of 1876, Knight and his band of freedmen are there.  And despite the laws against miscegenation, Knight lived (openly?) with a former slave as his common-law wife and even had his first wife and son living in another house on his land.

There's some time-jumping here as we also see a court case, where a Knight's great-grandson is ruled to be "one-eighth" black in a Mississippi courtroom in 1948, and therefore not allowed to marry his white girlfriend.  His heritage is uncertain until the family bible clears up who his great-grandmother was, and (presumably) Newton's story inspires his descendant to take a stand against the unfair laws.  Again, if you don't like the game, change the rules.  (And the game has changed - back in 1876 it was the Democrats trying to keep African-Americans from being able to vote, and these days, that's the Republican's game...)

I said I was going to try and be more political here at the Movie Year, and I think I'm succeeding.  With films like "Reds", "1984", "Snowden", "Weiner", and "Our Brand Is Crisis", I think maybe I'm all around it, without specifically being about it.  (I even found a way to tie the depiction of Julius Caesar in "Cleopatra" in with our current political situation...)  But let's be clear, here, if you didn't vote in the 2016 election then you gave up the right to complain about the result.  But it seems like the majority of the populace is having buyer's remorse in one form or another over the actions of our current administration.  The answer is simple, and we don't even need to openly revolt like Newton Knight did - "if you don't like the game, change the rules".  Vote in the midterm elections, for the people who you feel will enact the social change that you want to see, and while we won't get a do-over for the Trump debacle, eventually, with a little effort, the game can be changed.

Also starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (last seen in "Concussion"), Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell (last seen in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), Christopher Berry (last seen in "Get Hard"), Sean Bridgers (last seen in "Room"), Thomas Francis Murphy (last seen in "Self/Less"), Brian Lee Franklin, Bill Tangradi (last seen in "Argo"), Donald Watkins, Wayne Pere, Kerry Cahill (last seen in "Midnight Special"), Artrial Clark, Gary Grubbs (also last seen in "Concussion"), David Jensen (last seen in "I Love You Phillip Morris").

RATING: 5 out of 10 times McConaughey says the "N-word"

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