In Allison Graham's Framing the South, what are Graham’s thoughts regarding such "civil rights" & "cracker justice" films?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of Graham's basic points is to suggest that the Hollywood reproduction of the issue of civil rights has reduced the topic's complexity to something basic and reductive.  This has prevented a full and thorough examination of the institutions that did perpetuate and continue to perpetuate the denial of Civil Rights.  Instead, Hollywood has opted to present a reductive form of representation that shows the individual crusader as being able to restore Civil Rights singularly, thereby preventing a complete and nuanced analysis to a complex issue. In placing the issue of Civil Rights denial on the "Southern cracker" who is presented in a monolithic manner, Graham argues that such cinematic depictions prevent an examination of how embedded forms of racism prevented and still prevent the full realization of Civil Rights.  This mass media stereotyping prevents constructive criticism and almost "whitewashes" the issue to be something hung on the shoulders of ignorant individuals as opposed to a social, economic, and politically nuanced issue of multiple layers:


 … popular reconfigurations of the civil rights era imagine the twentieth-century South as an arena of white--not black--heroism.  More importantly, they offer the spectacle of racial redemption, for with the expulsion of the lawless redneck from southern society, the moral purity of whiteness itself is affirmed.

It's interesting to note that Graham argues that such a depiction actually upholds White America, displaying racism and discrimination to be the result of a few "lawless" bad apple "rednecks."  It is this "redneck" and the idea of "cracker justice" that has made films such as Mississippi Burning and Cool Hand Luke represent the Hollywood approach to analyzing the issue of Civil Rights.  In both films, racism and prejudice are laid at the feet of individuals who are singularly depicted as completely arcane.  Such films fail to paint the portrait of racism as something endemic to part of American society, in some cases showing it as a product of the South only.  For example, in Misssippi Burning, the Northern FBI agents are the only initiators of racial justice against the vast landscape of the South, shown as "crackers" who are completely easy to demonize.  In Graham's mind, "an immutable characteristic" of films like these are to display a steadfast "refusal to indict social and political institutions for racial injustice."  


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