Imagine yourself, being a black, in a town somewhere in the deep south of the United States during somewhere in the 1960's. It wasn't the prettiest life in the world at any stage of time for any sort of person. It was the period that racism and racial prejudice was at its maximum. The length of difference between the "colored" and "white" ranks of people was never broader. Here today, we could hardly imagine the horrifying incidents that occurred in that period. However, two movies that show only a mere glimpse of life in those dark days are "In the Heat of the Night" and "Mississippi Burning.
In both the movies, the main target is to highlight the characteristics and level of racial discriminations. "In the Heat of the Night" is by far a very outstanding movie. The lead character is a black named Virgil Tibbs. In those days, few blacks would even dare not only to star but appear in a movie, which could be one of the reasons why it won so many recognitions. Tibbs, on a dark Mississippi night was waiting for the late train that draws into Sparta, a small, quiet town in Mississippi.
He was the only passenger at the train station. At the same time Sam Wood, a police deputy, patrols the streets very late at night. With only the radio to keep him company, Sam cruises the familiar route. Then, without warning, Sam catches sight of a misshapen bundle in the headlight's glare. Investigating, he discovers a body, its skull caved in and blood still wet. When Sheriff Gillespie arrives on the scene, he quickly establishes that the victim is Mr. Colbert.
A very rich man who hoped to found a large factory in the town. He is possibly the worst target that the murderer could have chosen. Obviously the killer needed to be caught soon, especially if he's a drifter who could have already moved past the town limits. Thus Gillespie sends his deputies out to comb the streets, looking for suspects.
Sam wood arrives at the train station and quickly grabs the very first black person he could find which turns out to be Tibbs. When taken to the Sheriff's office, Tibbs is handled like any other black suspect. Thinking he was the ordinary black person, Gillespie starts his investigation but soon finds himself in embarrassment when he discovers that Tibbs is one of the top FBI homicide experts. Instead of continuing his journey towards home, Tibbs offers a much needed helping hand to the corrupt police department in finding the murderer of Colbert. Every time a suspect is drawn, Tibbs outsmarts the police department and proves the innocence of the top suspects in Gillespie's' mind. Failing over and over again, Gillespie puts his prejudiced views behind and co-operates fully with Tibbs who was making vast progress in the investigation with the help of the changed Gillespie.
By this time, they trusted in each other and started working together in solving the case instead of seeing who could solve the case first. Now, one cannot solve the case without the other and both start to comply and compromise with each other and eventually find the killer. "Mississippi Burning" on the other hand is a movie that takes racism to a much broader view. Unlike "In the Heat of the Night", it is a movie where crime on democracy and human rights was being investigated Nationwide. The plot of the film is loosely based on the real events that took place in state of Mississippi in summer of 1964. Three civil rights activists, two whites (one who was a Jew) and one black were taking part in a campaign to educate the black population about their voting rights and encourage to exercise them, thus threatening the "all-white" racist power establishment.
One night all three of them were murdered by group of local racists. Few days later, the FBI sends two agents to investigate their disappearance. The lead investigator is young, idealistic Alan Ward and he wants to solve the case by employing methods from FBI manuals. But the conventional criminal investigation, even when aided by dozens of other agents or hundred of Navy reservists doesn't yield any significant results. The main reason why they can't find the bodies or evidence is in the wall of silence created by local population; whites are inimical towards FBI, while the blacks are intimidated by, a violence group who don't recognize the rights of black people. Ward's partner Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) grew up in Mississippi and knows the local ways, so he suggest use of unconventional and sometimes downright illegal methods of investigation in order to solve the case.
Suspecting that the local sheriff Stucky had something to do with the murder, he finds a weak spot in local hairdresser Mrs. Pell, who provided crucial information on her husband, Stucky's deputy Pell and his whereabouts on the day of the murder. The film is way stronger than "In the Heat of the Night" in terms of emotion projecting towards the audience. This is especially significant in the numerous but always heart wrenching scenes of blacks being victims of beatings, torching and lynching. Those scenes would leave a lasting impression on the audience, especially among those who start thinking about this horror being part of everyday life in pre-1960's South. Those scenes also explain why blacks in both the films happen to be nothing more than helpless victims and why this was reality in those days. Both "In the Heat of the Night" and "Mississippi Burning" are very good films and give us a strong warning and constant reminder how the people suffered only 40 years ago.
Even though it is very hard for us to imagine the horrors of the south, these two movies make it easier for us by showing what life might have been like in those days especially those who remember times when they were institutionally barred from exercising their most basic human and civil rights. Erasing this shameful spot from the face of democracy was anything but easy yet racism can still be a huge barrier to cross in modern day. Today, racism is far better dealt with and more importantly prevented. Movies: In the heat of the Night Mississippi Burning.