Prom Night in Mississippi
By Kari Croop,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Inspiring docu tackles a tough topic: racism.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie reinforces the idea that people are just people -- no matter the color of their skin -- and that change is truly possible if you work for it.
Positive Role Models
Most of the student leaders who support the integrated prom -- both Caucasian and African American -- have admirable qualities. For example, one student-athlete is not only a state champion power lifter who's involved in softball, basketball, track, and church; she also takes college-level algebra, has skipped a grade, and holds the office of National Honor Society president.
Violence & Scariness
An archival image of a dead African-American man hanging from a tree is shown while a student talks about another hanging that took place in the town square. Another student describes a verbal fight between a Caucasian student and an African-American student that escalated due to the Caucasian student's allegations that the other student threatened her with a gun; another recounts a fight that broke out at the "white" prom between two students and a parent, who slapped one of the rabblerousers. At the integrated prom, male and female students engage in a dance battle that looks violent (ie., it involves some body pushing/intimidation) but isn’t meant to be.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some students discuss having sex, with a focus on the perceived "fear" of interracial sex. Another student talks about having had both African-American and Caucasian “lovers” and asserts that they’re all the same; it’s what’s inside that counts.
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Audible words include mild terms like "ass" and "hell," as well as a few unbleeped instances of "f--k." The "N" word is also used quite a bit, both as a hate and a non-hate term.
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Products & Purchases
The soundtrack includes songs by popular artists like Lil Wayne, Usher, Feist, and One Republic. Rap act Kamikaze plays at the prom.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A character describes underage drinking in a limousine on the night of the "white" prom, saying students were "getting tipsy, getting crazy." Another student claims that some students drink and "get drunk every weekend."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this documentary's frank discussion of a sensitive topic -- racism -- includes some unbleeped swearing and racist language, including regular use of "N" word by both African Americans and Caucasians. Some violent acts are described, including fist fights between students, and there's a brief shot of a particularly grizzly photo of a dead man hanging from a tree. Students also talk about underage sex and drinking, but most of the teens who are prominently featured are positive role models.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
Filmmaker Paul Saltzman captures history in the making in PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI, an honest yet inspirational documentary about lingering racism in the deep South and a small-town Mississippi high school's first integrated prom. The kicker, of course, is that this momentous occasion takes place in 2008 -- not the 1950s. To give graduating seniors an incentive to partipate, local celebrity Morgan Freeman presents the idea as a challenge and offers to pay all costs. In the end, it's a story about change and the pockets of resistance that try to stop it.
Is It Any Good?
When it comes to content, Saltzman respects viewers' intelligence by refusing to candy coat the issue of racism, presenting candid comments from students who are all too willing to talk about it. For example, one African-American student describes a humilating incident in which the police pulled him and a Caucasian friend over, claiming they smelled marijuana. The cops made the first student drop his pants in public, while they left his friend alone. Another Caucasian student shares her father's reaction to the idea of an integrated prom: "N---ers ain't gonna be rubbin' up against my daughter."
Prom Night in Mississippi might not be as zippy as some other documentaries about high school life (including American Teen), but it's both sobering and refreshing in its honesty, making it a must-see for families with teens who are mature enough to handle the film's complex themes.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
How do stereotypes play into racism? Have you ever made a snap judgment about someone based on the color of their skin -- or anything else about their outward appearance?
Why is the South so often associated with racism? Do you think that -- particularly with the election of Barack Obama -- racism is less of an issue in the United States than it used to be? Why or why not?
What if Morgan Freeman hadn't presented students with the idea of an integrated prom and offered to pay for it? How long do you think it would have taken for the school to integrate proms on its own? Do you think the fact that the process was covered by a film crew influenced the outcome in any way?
- On DVD or streaming: January 26, 2010
- Cast: Chasidy Buckley, Morgan Freeman
- Director: Paul Saltzman
- Inclusion Information: Black actors
- Studio: New Video Group
- Genre: Documentary
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: January 30, 2023
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