"isn’t afraid of showing how cruel, brutal and horrifying racism and segregation are"
Another powerful story opens the second day of the London Film Festival shining a light on discrimination in America. Set in Mississippi during WWII, Mudbound focuses on two families bound together by duty and fate.
The McAllan family just took over a big farm. While Laura is trying to adjust to all the changes around her and raising her two girls, her husband is making arrangements with the Jacksons, a black family working for him at the farm. Both families have something in common, two of their members are fighting in Europe during the war.
When both Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson come back from the frontier, they have to fight their own demons, rouse from their violent memories, and a reality in which black men are not brothers in arms anymore and they are considered inferior.
Jamie and Ronsel have a unique bond forged by trauma and survivor’s guilt. However, Mississippi is still the same old place and shaking off bad habits is hard to do. Presented in a time in which racism is still unfortunately present in our modern society, the parallelism with history are quite strong in Mudbound.
As a director Dee Rees doesn’t sugarcoat what she is bringing to the screen. She is not afraid of showing the most cruel, strong and violent scenes. She stays true to the story she needs to tell. Every scene is artfully placed to highlight parallelism and juxtapositions between what Jamie and Ronsel are living through in Europe, and what life looks like for black people back in Mississippi.
The camera observes the characters living their reality without intruding and the close ups are implemented when Dee Rees wants her audience to get into the minds of the protagonists to understand what they are feeling. Filth and mud are always present throughout the film to create the metaphor of how unfair and disgusting racism is. All the characters embody the different representation of racism.
Laura is not disrespectful or feels like she is better than Florence Jackson. However, she doesn’t speak her mind or condemn the comments made by her husband or father in law or the their actions towards the Jacksons. She is silent and by not standing up for herself or the Jacksons, she is condoning their bigotry. Both the patriarchs of the family don’t hide their feelings of superiority, but while Henry McAllan hides behind firm politeness, his father represents all that is wrong with white people being entitled and small minded in their ignorance.
The cast ensemble work together as a well oiled machine. Carey Mulligan does a good job in portraying Laura’s naivety and fragility. By being too caught up with her own tragedies, she turns a blind eye to what is happening around her. Jamie is the only other character along with Ronsel that lives a harsher, violent and different reality. He saw his friends die and was saved by a black man piloting an aircraft.
He doesn’t accept or understand racism anymore. To his eyes, they are one and the same and together they fought and eradicated Nazism, a plague, born from a feeling of hatred towards another race. Garrett Hedlund has the difficult task of having to portray a character who is deeply damaged by the horrors of war. He is constantly drunk to forget and he finds solace in Ronsel. Their friendship builds naturally and Hedlund, along with Jason Mitchell, bring to the screen a heartfelt performance of a man who doesn’t belong anywhere and is desperately finding his way home.
Mitchell is extraordinary. His character is strong and doesn’t accept the labels everyone is trying to put on him. While his parents don’t know any other reality, apart from the one of segregation, he lived in a world in which no matter the colour of his skin, he was considered a soldier and a hero fighting for his country.
His performance, supported by Mary J. Blige, who plays his mother, is one of the strongest in the film. In a world that already pegs him as weak and inferior, he is hiding his post traumatic disorder by being strong for himself and his family. The struggle of having to adapt again and obey the rules of segregation is evident in his posture and facial expression.
As a story that is highlighting the horror and unfairness of segregation, Mudbound is a movie that isn’t afraid of showing how cruel, brutal and horrifying racism and segregation are. And in doing it by telling a piece of our history is reminding us that today we are still fighting this old battle, even if we are pretending that society evolved and we are in a better place.