Mudbound: A Movie Review That Became Something Quite Different
Mudbound is an harrowing epic piece of American filmmaking by director, Dee Rees. Beautifully shot by cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, while being very stressful to experience, the passion of all who made this powerful film is stained on to each and every frame of film, much like the mud and the dirt that is caked onto the skin and shoes of these farmers. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, with a screenplay by Virgil Williams, this film is solidly told and crafted with elegance, love, frustration, anger, and pain (take note of all the females at the top of this film’s power structure, it’s impressive and should be applauded – as it was at the NYFF).
It’s a complicated tale of two families, of two sons: one black and one white, coming back to the farmland of Mississippi, to find that they have a new war to fight and struggle against in the segregated and cruel South. The story is upsetting and deeply disturbing, steeped in the violent racism of America. There is goodness and devotion but so much anxiety layered on even the kindest of moments. One starts to watch the corners of each exquisitely filmed scenes, especially in the more compassionate moments, waiting and staying alert for the expected hatred and violence to rise its ugly white-supremist head and destroy all of the love and kindness on display.
This film is not perfect. It stalls for moments at a time, leaving us to our faith that it will bring us back on board. But what it does get right is to showcase what America was and sadly, still is. This country is not great, but is as dirty and upsetting as the mud that is bound to the bodies of these characters. I want to cry for all those people then and now, including myself (a member of the LGBTQ community and a card-carrying Native American Indian) who lived and now live under the terrible heart-crushing thumb of fear and oppression. I want to weep for us and present state of this union. I want to fight back in protest, to take a knee, for the pain this black family, the strong and proud Jackson clan who dream of a future of land owning and self-realization, must withstand in Mudbound. The parents, played most magnificently by Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige, who bear the weight of oppression, struggle as they watch their son, Ronsel, portrayed with power and intelligence by Jason Mitchell, return home to rural Mississippi after serving in the army, where he got a glimpse of something closer to respect and equality. The white McAllan land-owning family struggle as well in the hard landscape of the rural South, but from a place of dirty but structural privilege. Even while the wife, Laura, played wonderfully by the talented Carey Mulligan, and the young war pilot brother-in-law, Jamie, portrayed handsomely by Garrett Hedlund, try their best to be better and more fair, they still come from a place of privilege in a way that can’t be denied or ignored.
It’s hard to take in all that is shown in this film once the credits begin to roll, especially as we walk out into the America that we are now just trying to withstand. This America, with a White House and the GOP party filled to the brim with hate and disgust of all that aren’t white, male, straight, and rich. is encrusted in their minds like dried mud in hair. This White House that is attempting at every tick of the clock to turn back time to the days of oppression, fear, and inequality in regards to race, gender, and sexual orientation. With the racist and power-driven White House turning a blind eye to the horror of what is happening at this very moment in Puerto Rico, the territory that holds no electoral votes. They lie about the hurricane recovery efforts while criticizing and blaming the victims for their predicament, but send relief to Texas and Florida, which does have a large number or electoral college votes. This leadership attempts to legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation by both the federal and state government branches (ex. Mississippi’s new law allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation). With an attack coming, it seems daily, against equal and fair access to affordable health care, women’s reproductive rights, to birth control and abortion (not to mention all the attacks on science, global warming, peace agreements, trade agreements, and controls on how businesses need to be monitored and controlled), I shudder and feel sick, especially after seeing a film that depicts the hate and violence of racism after World War II, and what it begets. I leave the theater to be bombarded once again by news articles focusing on what is happening in our country by its leaders. To realize (not for the first time, mind you) that this America where I have chosen to live, is working hard to return to a white privileged past. Much has changed here in America, but so little has altered.
This film makes me want to resist even more strongly that horrible man in the White House and his cohorts in the government of America. They should, but don’t and won’t, feel shame for all that they stand for and do. I hope history treats them in the same way this film portrays the most hateful and vile character, the racist white robed-wearing father of Jamie McAllan, expertly portrayed by Jonathan Banks, because they are one and the same. Please, history books, do us that service, just like this stunning film, Mudbound does for all the families that this film represents.