In 1970, the town of Charleston, Mississippi, allowed black students into their white high school, but refused to integrate the senior prom. Twenty-seven years later, Charleston resident and Academy Award®-winning actor Morgan Freeman offered to finance the prom - under the condition it be integrated. His offer was ignored. In 2008, Freeman made the offer again. This time the school board accepted, and history was made.
PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI traces the tumultuous events leading up to Charleston's first integrated prom through intimate conversations with students, families, faculty members and Freeman himself. As the film unfolds, we delve deeply into the heated race issues that tear apart this tiny community, and realize that this troubling segregation has less to do with the students than their parents. Ultimately, PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI captures a big moment in a small town, where hope finally blossoms in black, white and a whole lot of taffeta.
- Interview with the producer and director
- Deleted and extended scenes
Back in 1954, the landmark Supreme Court decision known as Brown v. Board of Education
struck down state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students. But towns like Charleston, Mississippi, the subject of Paul Saltzman's 2008 documentary Prom Night in Mississippi
, were a bit slow on the uptake. It wasn't until 1970 that the high school was integrated; even then, nearly 40 more years passed before the senior prom was allowed to follow suit. In 1997 actor Morgan Freeman, a Charleston native, offered to pay for the prom if both black and white students were included, but his offer was rebuffed. Freeman, noting that "tradition is one thing, [but] idiocy is another," tried again in 2008, and this time it worked; the senior class voted unanimously for integration, and administrators and teachers were receptive as well. But as the school began its preparations for this historic event, it was soon apparent that it would not be easy. There was considerable resistance from some of the parents and other adults steeped in the area's legacy of racism; in fact, while the mixed prom would go on as planned, it was preceded by another, all-white event (it's telling that the organizers of the white prom refused to appear on camera for the documentary). But some of the other parents we see are deeply, honestly conflicted, including blue-collar "redneck" (his description) Glen Sumner, whose daughter is one of the very few students involved in an interracial relationship. The kids are for the most part great. In interview after interview, these wise, well-spoken young people express their respect for their parents while questioning their attitudes, ingenuously wondering why the world is so harsh. In the end, following weeks of choosing the right clothes, having their hair done, and so on, they come together to make the mixed prom a rousing success, creating an uplifting end to this well-made, compelling film. --Sam Graham