As the United States enters another season of racial tension across the country, the movie Mudbound shines a light on the evils of the Jim Crow era in Mississippi during World War II.
Mudbound, produced by Christopher Lamole and directed by Dee Rees, follows the stories of a white family and a black family living on the same share-cropped land. The two families have different struggles but somehow manage to co-exist during an era of war abroad and high racial tension.
Great Gatsby alum Carey Mulligan, R&B Superstar Mary J. Blige, and Stranger Things alum Rob Morgan were among the cast of Mudbound. The actors did a great job of delivering the emotion in the story. There’s a lot of oppression on the side of the African-Americans. They were subject to work and tasks they didn’t want to do for whites coupled with racial slurs on a regular basis. The movie starts very slow. There’s a lot of scenarios added by the writer and directors to convey exactly how difficult life was for blacks in the South in the 1940’s.
Eventually the two families collide and they soon realize that they are different but have the same problems. The common life struggles that all human beings face including struggles with family, sickness and finances are the things that bring the black and white family together.
This is not a love story nor is it a beautiful, easy friendship. While a few characters have amazing bonding moments, the ugly face of racism has a recurring role that will greatly impact the friendship between two of the men that both experienced war and the wives who had the same struggles caring for children and standing by their husbands.
I found myself being angry at many points in the film including the many scenes where the racist white grandfather (Pappy), played by actor Jonathan Banks freely used the “N” word and was unapologetic about his feelings of superiority to blacks. His racist feelings mixed with dangerous actions ultimately change the story into a dark place that pushes the story into an ending that is hard to digest.
The best part of the movie is the moment where Ronsel Jackson (played by Jason Mitchell) helped his white neighbor Jamie McAllen (Garrett Hedlund) overcome his PTSD. This is during the period in history when war heroes were undiagnosed and were left to deal with the torment, fear and nightmares from the things they saw in war.
Ronsell Jackson became the biggest unsung hero in the movie. He went off to Germany to fight a war for a country who didn’t treat him as equal. He survived death and helped the country to victory, but sadly came home to death threats and the “N” word. He maintained his strong demeanor throughout the film.
Another noted performance was Mary J. Blige, who played Ronell’s mother Florence Jackson. She helped the white family care for sick children in spite of the tensions that existed. Blige, who is known for her hit music was great in the role. I was very impressed with her performance.
Overall, I would recommend this film with caution. The harsh realities of the Jim Crow south are at times difficult to watch and sad to see since this work of fiction was inspired by a horrible period in American history. The story is very slow in some parts of the film. While I understand the reasons the writer and producers wanted to establish certain plot lines, I think eliminating 30 minutes from the film could have helped push the powerful message forward for those who may get lost in the length of scenes that were not critical to the storyline. Mudbound is currently in theaters and available to view in Netflix.com.