If racially integrating a high school prom in America’s South was on Morgan Freeman’s bucket list, the Oscar-winning actor can now scratch that lofty accomplishment off the register.
And there’s a Canadian to thank for it.
Freeman met Paul Saltzman when the Toronto-based filmmaker traveled to Mississippi in 2008 to revisit the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Discovering that the actor had previously been declined when he offered to fund a local school’s prom if they stopped segregating it, Saltzman rekindled the shocking issue and decided to document it.
“Right away I thought, ‘there’s a film that needs to be made,’” explained the director recently of his new film Prom Night in Mississippi. “There isn’t a human being on the planet with zero prejudice … the point is that if you don’t look at it within yourself, if you don’t see it, then it rules you.
“If we can get young people who are still more flexible than older people, we hope young people will come out of the movie and just for a moment think about their own attitudes and their own prejudices and that that’s where change can begin.”
As such, Freeman put the offer back on the table and Charleston High School accepted. What follows in Saltzman’s movie is an example of both the repressed and outright racism that still exists in America.
“The most shocking thing (I discovered) was how racist the racists still are,” admitted Saltzman, further explaining that one parent who invited Freeman to play a round of golf was threatened by the local country club’s all-white membership. “Fear is what keeps people apart and if you’re extreme, you can instill a lot of fear in other people.”
As much as the film spotlights the consequence of racism, Prom Night also remains hopeful. As Saltzman discovered, most teens welcomed the integration of the prom — a sign that hopefully, even in Mississippi, attitudes are changing.
“It’s a worldwide issue across all issues whether its religion or gender or whatever,” said Saltzman. “I personally think that we, as a species, go three steps forward and two steps back … (but) we are making headway and it’s slow.”
On the web
Prom Night in Mississippi opens in theatres on Friday. More about the film can be found at www.promnightinmississippi.com.