Good stuff seen this week : Free State of Jones at the cinema; and the bears on Bearcam. If that Bearcam link no longer works, a Google search for Bearcam will provide others. I find watching it to be nicely relaxing, the sound of the water as well as the visual treats.
Free State of Jones is a deadly serious movie, unlike most others on offer at this time of year. It's really a history lesson made palatable by excellent performances, by Matthew and a cast of mostly unknown (to me) actors, both black and white.
Much that was relevant in the mid 19th century, when the movie is set, is still sadly relevant today, in different ways or contexts. I've read a couple of reviews since seeing the film, one applauding it, one not as keen. I understand there are some which really pan the film badly. To each their own! I'm very glad to have seen it, was never bored at any point during the 2 hours and 19 minutes of its run-time.
There's a very good piece at Smithsonian website outlining the long painstaking research period undertaken by Gary Ross, the film's director. Even for anyone not seeing the movie, I think this article's detail of the story would be of general interest .
In a nutshell, Free State of Jones, necessarily fictionalised in places, is the fact-based story of a poor white Mississippi yeoman farmer, Newton Knight (played by Matthew M), during the time of the Civil War and after. Knight discovered an unexpected "calling". He deserted from his nurse/orderly post in the Confederate army, during a bloody battle (the early scenes in the film had me covering my eyes), to return the body of a very young kinsman to his mother. Knight had become so disenchanted with the war, enough so that he was to remain a deserter, continually on the run. He threw in his lot with a group of runaway slaves. The group was joined, in time, by other local opposers of the war, runaway slaves and men and women whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed by Confederate forces.
After many challenges, changes and much heart-searching there was established by Newton Knight and his followers, in Jones County within the state of Mississippi, the tiny "Free State of Jones". Within this Free State all, regardless of colour of their skin, were considered equal. There were some problems in that regard along the way, but it was due to Newt Knight's strong personality and leadership skills that most were smoothed.
|Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)|
Interspersed, in the 19th century action, now and then and rather oddly, but for a purpose, are scenes in a Mississippi courtroom some 85 years later, when a great grandson of Newton Knight is being tried for marrying a white woman. The great grandson looks just like any other white man, but it has been proved that he has one eighth black blood, from his great grandmother, Rachel - Newt Knight's black common-law wife. He is therefore sent to jail for marrying a white woman. Reviewers I've read are critical of these "inserts", but I felt they showed how, in spite of every effort, every good intention, every law, the insidious disease of racism persisted - and still persists now, a further 70 years on.
A scene I saw as important, though not mentioned in the reviews I read: after slaves were freed and eventually allowed to vote, Newt Knight saw to it that they all attended the voting place. They, along with Newt and his mixed group, were told that voting papers for Republicans had not arrived, only Democrats could vote. Knight stood his ground and demanded they be given voting papers , and eventually they were - and they all voted. However, when the results were declared and recorded they were as follows: Democrats - more than 400; Republicans - 2. (This in spite of the fact that the former slaves and Knight's large mixed group of followers had all voted Republican).
Memorable quotes from the movie:
Newton Knight: I'm tired of it. You, me, all of it! We're all out there dying so they can stay rich!
Will Sumrall: [referring to Knight's young kinsman, Daniel] He died with honor.
Newton Knight: No, Will, he just died.
Newton Knight: Somehow, some way, and some time, everybody is somebody else’s nigger.
Newton Knight: From this day forward we declare the land north of Pascagoula Swamp, south of enterprise and east to the Pearl River to the Alabama border, to be a Free State of Jones. And as such we do hereby proclaim and affirm the following principles.
Number one, no man ought to stay poor so another man can get rich.
Number two, no man ought to tell another man what you got to live for or what he's got to die for.
Number three, what you put in the ground is yours to tend and harvest and there ain't no man ought to be able to take that away from you.
Number four, every man is a man. If you walk on two legs, you're a man. It's as simple as that.