Prom Night in Mississippi DVD Review

Prom Night in Mississippi

The high school prom has been a staple in modern cinema for as long as I can remember. So many great films have climaxed with a killer school dance: Carrie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Back to the Future, Sixteen Candles. With Prom Night in Mississippi, director Paul Saltzman throws his chips on the table, trading in time travel and pig’s blood for…small town racism! After all, this is prom night in Mississippi, not Hill Valley.

So apparently Charleston, Mississippi still holds segregated proms. How messed up is that? I guess it’s not totally surprising that there are still pockets of the United States that haven’t progressed socially or politically in the last 40 years. (We’ll just leave it at ‘small pockets’ for the sake of this particular review. If this film were about a gay couple attending prom, ‘small pockets’ would grow exponentially.) Prom Night in Mississippi attempts to shed a light on who’s responsible for this primitive attitude, and in the process, discovers that apparently it’s not the kids. Enter Academy Award Winning actor Morgan Freeman. If I were a cynical person, I might accuse Mr.Freeman of using this film as some sort of vanity piece, but I’m not one to bash celebrities for using their fame/fortune for doing good. Apparently he lives in Charleston, MI, and certainly has his reasons (duh) for getting involved in attempting to de-segregate the local high school prom. He talks about outsider perceptions of his home town and simply cannot excuse — obviously — the idea of a segregated prom. He had previously attempted to offer to pay for a single prom in 1997 but was met with rejection. This time, with some trepadation, his request is granted and the kids start planning their special night with a no-limits budget supplied by Mr.Freeman himself.

I felt that Prom Night in Mississippi was at its best when the heavy discussion of racial segregation took a backseat to the details of the prom itself. I’m not saying that the issue at the heart of the film isn’t an important one, but I just felt that a more subtle — and possibly more powerful — point might have been made in allowing the prom play as more of a catalyst, which could naturally bring all of the racial issues bubbling to the surface without the need for so much talking head editorializing from the students and parents. Seeing the kids getting along and working together towards this common goal is much more interesting to me then hearing them talk about their thoughts on race to their ‘diary’ cams. I suppose it just felt a little traditional and cliched. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the court room/comic book renderings of certain aspects of the story. This just seems like a go-to technique that has become a little too common in docs for my taste. However, having said that, I’m not totally sure what else they could’ve done in this case, so maybe I should shut my stupid mouth.

Overall I had a pretty good time with Prom Night in Mississippi. It was great seeing these kids taking the control from the older generations and re-evaluating their relationships with their peers from a perspective that isn’t totally influenced by their parents.

Prom Night in Mississippi is available on DVD from Docurama.