Racism is an ugly thing and something largely associated with a time long past. Once in a while, a film (The Order of Myths) or event (Katrina) happens which showcases just how little society has advanced over the decades. When we see racism, it’s easy enough to chalk it up to a “small group of people” but that’s never been a good response and it’s certainly not one that comes to mind after seeing a film like this one; especially when the issues at hand involve children.
Paul Saltzman’s documentary Prom Night in Mississippi raises a lot of questions, perhaps more than it answers but the questions are big ones (are there any small questions when we’re talking about racism?). Saltzman’s film follows a group of students who attend school in Charleston, Mississippi. On the outside it appears to be a typical high school. The school population is predominantly African American but students attend classes, eat lunch and play sports together but when it comes to prom, segregation is the order of business.
When Morgan Freeman caught wind of this, he saw the opportunity to usher in change. In 1997 he offered to pay for a mixed prom. At the time, he was turned away but not one to give up, he made a similar offer to the class of 2008 and overwhelmingly, the teens agreed (really, who would say no to Morgan Freeman?). That’s the set-up for Saltzman’s documentary which follows a number of the graduating teens through preparations for their first mixed prom. But all is not smiles and happiness in Charleston. Tough the majority of the teens are excited at the changing tide, parents aren’t as keen on the idea of a mixed prom and a few decide to follow “tradition” and organize an all white prom.