The Free State of Jones Delivers Another Nail in the Lost Cause Coffin
The big budget Hollywood movies released during the sesquicentennial have all been decidedly anti-Lost Cause. Think “12 Years a Slave,” “Django,” and “Lincoln.” In contrast, more low budget production such as “Field of Lost Shoes” and Amazon’s recent pilot “Point of Honor” have both been disasters on so many levels.
Both of these recent flops attempted to get Confederate soldiers and civilians on the right side of slavery and white supremacy. Virginia Military Institute cadets befriend a black cook or rescue trapped slaves under wagons while slaveowning West Point cadet chooses to emancipate his family ‘s slaves at the very beginning of the war. Unfortunately, we will never know why he made this decision.
Next year, Hollywood will release The Free State of Jones starring Matthew McConaughey and based on the book by the same name by Victoria Bynum. A first glimpse of McConaughey as Newt Knight was released yesterday and I have to say that he looks amazing. Clearly his role in “Dallas Buyers Club” has prepared him physically for the role. Entertainment Weekly outlines the movie as follows:
Set during the Civil War, The Free State of Jones tells the story of the defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey), and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. By banding together with other small farmers, and with the assistance of local slaves, Knight was able to launch an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones. His marriage to Rachel, a former slave, and his establishment of a mixed race community was unique to the post-war South.
There is no other Civil War movie that comes close to this story. Inman may have deserted from the army in “Cold Mountain, “but he was not rejecting the Confederacy as much as he was rejecting war and yearning for a woman he barely knew. Dutchy abandons his guerilla unit at the end of “Ride With the Devil,” but a clearly defined war between the United States and the Confederacy was never clearly articulated.
As far as I am aware this is the first Hollywood production whose main character rejects the Confederacy and actively campaigns against it. Producers clearly believe that audiences will be able to empathize with a former Confederate soldier on his own terms. Of course, Bynum’s book tells a complex story so it will be interesting to see how it is adapted as a screenplay.
One concern that I have at this early stage is the potential for the movie to give audience’s the wrong idea about popular support for the Confederacy. Certainly there were pockets of passive and active resistance throughout the South, but the Confederacy enjoyed widespread support long after the point where most observers would have predicted defeat.