Prom Night in Mississippi Movie Review
Racism is a virus that has yet to be cured. Though the election of Barrack Obama was a historic and momentous occasion, his presidency has revealed a deep-seeded racism that still persists in society. Still, it’s shocking to hear that as of just two years ago, an American school was still allowing segregated proms. The documentary Prom Night in Mississippi focuses on one such school in Charlestown, Mississippi, the hometown of actor Morgan Freeman.
The documentary, directed by Paul Saltzman, follows the seniors at the high school that has, for decades, conducted two privately funded proms: one for whites, one for blacks. The school itself is integrated, as are its sports programs and everything else. Still, some school board members and parents insisted that the proms remain separate. In the movie, Freeman proposes to the school and students that they integrate their proms: in exchange, he’ll pay for the whole thing. The decision is easy, but the movie goes on to interview the students on their opinions, relationships and friendships, attempting to explore just how this racism has affected their lives.
Prom Night in Mississippi is pretty vanilla, but it’s shocking that there are communities that are still so racist. Having lived most of my entire life in Seattle, this kind of blatant racism is foreign to me, and in that regard, there’s something captivating about the documentary. Some of the stories the students tell are extremely interesting and sad at the same time.
Still, as far as documentaries go, it isn’t as hard hitting as it should have been. The movie does a good job of interviewing the students, who for the most part are open to change, but fails to land a single interview with someone opposed to the integration. If so many people in town are racist, surely Saltzman could have gotten a few people on camera. Furthermore, when parents advocating for an all-white prom invited students to a meeting, couldn’t he have snuck a tape recorder inside? Bottom line: the documentary should have been more ambitious.
Prom Night also stumbles in the final half hour as the prom kicks into gear. As valuable as it is to see the prom, nothing really happens during this time other than typical prom stuff. A little less emphasis on the end product and more on the friction leading up to the prom would have gone a long way.
Prom Night in Mississippi suffers from a lack of hard-hitting filmmaking and would have benefited greatly from more insight into the Charleston community, but it still works nonetheless.