How does the use of characterisation shape your perception of the purpose in  Mississippi Burning?

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

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Characterization in Parker's film plays a large part in how the Civil Rights struggle is seen.  Parker's film uses characterization as the primary lens through which one perceives the Civil Rights Movement. There is little in way of economic explanation or distillation of other forces that play a role in the movement.  Rather, it is through the use of characterization and the development of this technique that enables the perception of the Civil Rights struggle to emerge.  Agent Ward is characterized as the well- intentioned, champion liberal while the veteran Agent Anderson is more skilled at recognizing how the fight for justice needs to be waged.  On the other side, forces like Pell and Stuckey are characterized to represent the very worst in Southern racism, while Mrs. Pell is shown to be a silent collaborator who wishes to do right through both external pressure and her own sense of righteousness, misplaced while living in the South.  These characterizations helps to establish the perception of forces involved in the struggle to bring Civil Rights and a sense of justice to Mississippi.  It is interesting to note that the characterizations that Parker features are predominantly of White characters, leaving characterizations of people of color mostly to the periphery.  This indicates that the perception of the Civil Rights Struggle has to be seen through the characterizations of Whites, and not people of color, one of the criticisms against the film.


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