Free State of Jones is an epic tale of rebellion in Mississippi during the Civil War. It stars Matthew McConaughey. This film caught my eye when I saw it also starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell. The more I learned about Free State of Jones, the more interested I became. It’s a fascinating story that still reverberates today.
There’s a long and multi-faceted article in The Smithsonian Magazine by Richard Grant, The True Story of Free State of Jones. This article, more than the film’s description or the trailer, is what hooked me on the story of Newton Knight and his multiracial family, his rebellion against the Confederacy, his descendants, and the way his name is still vilified in Mississippi. I urge you to read the whole piece at The Smithsonian Magazine. You’ll see why Newton Knight is a name that’s remembered and why his story is relevant today.
The article contains history, interviews with current residents of the area, quotes from Matthew McConaughey, and quotes from two of Newton Knights’ descendants.
I’ll give you one quote from that long article, because the film’s trailer only shows the battle scenes and nothing from the third act.
The third act of the film takes place in Mississippi after the Civil War. There was a phase during early Reconstruction when blacks could vote, and black officials were elected for the first time. Then former Confederates violently took back control of the state and implemented a kind of second slavery for African-Americans. Once again disenfranchised, and terrorized by the Klan, they were exploited through sharecropping and legally segregated. “The third act is what makes this story feel so alive,” says McConaughey. “It makes it relevant today. Reconstruction is a verb that’s ongoing.”
Here’s the film’s description:
Written and directed by four-time Oscar nominee Gary Ross, Free State of Jones tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newton Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy.
Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones.
Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War.
The film opens in theaters June 24, 2016.