Review: Free State of Jones

I took off of work at 4PM today after not taking a lunch due to scheduling hiccups. I got a text mid day from a friend who is house sitting to come swimming and watch movies and eat ice cream. Work things aside, I haven’t been swimming in almost a year, the beaches in San Francisco are too cold for my liking. I think the last time I was in the ocean was on the Easter before I got married. I’ve been pool side a few times but I can’t remember the last time I was fully submerged in a body of water. I was not underwater on that Easter Sunday either, the task was much more difficult. The footage of that event has been lost, there are photos that exist, rumor has it and all.

The film we settled on was The Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali and Keri Russell, written and directed by Gary Ross. The film is a historical fiction, performing poorly in the box office, at the time I remember it as one of two films centered around the civil war area events, the other being Birth of a Nation, a film which performed better in the box office in terms of production costs to sales. Free State of Jones focuses around the life of Newton Knight, played by McCoaughey, a John Brown figure echoing the rebellion and God Fearing fire of the martyred leader of Harper’s Ferry. The film treads the muddy waters of Mississippi swamps with flash forwards to segregation era South scenes inside of a court house where we learn the fate of a descendant of McConaughey. As the film unfolds McConaughey delivers impassioned speech, dole’s out vengeance, and leads the white man’s burden to free all men from their oppressors. A key element of the movie is race which is treated in the nature of its time with weaponized words of hatred. It is unclear if the love for McConaughey’s character and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s, is simply fetishization over the healer or genuine. Scenes late in the film do nothing to clarify this relationship and historical accounts leave little to be discovered, only a good story. The first and second acts of the film deliver charged speeches on how all men are niggers, alienating white fighters and foreshadowing the eventual demise of Mahershala Ali. As a free man the screen time shared between McConaughey and Ali is humorous when not painful, going from laughter to the removal of shackles, to the return of a son, to the removal of penis and hanging, we are never to forget the power of whiteness even when we are laughing at the hopelessness of the white savior.  United States history if filled with troubled men, many of the white and familiar, but to we need to again pull the dead from obscura to tell us again how some people are just trying to stand up for what they believe, no matter the consequences.

If this is a nation built on beliefs then the words of the constitution are null and void ad history has shown us that the greed and deceit of those in power far outweigh the noble pursuits of the Pilgrim Fathers. There are holes in every part of the words written in the founding of the United States I live in today and I will never forget that liberation for me never came from a President’s words or from a anything that could be given by any man. My life and freedom is in my blood and the blood spilled by the whip, the plow, the cart, and on the roads walked barefoot through stolen land.

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