The new film written and directed by Gary Ross, Free State of Jones, about a white farmer in Mississippi, Newton Knight, who led an insurrection against the Confederacy from 1863 to 1865, has come under sharp attack by right-wing elements in the American media. By right-wing elements, we mean the “new right” of identity politics advocates
Underneath the layers of condescension and cynicism one detects in the various attacks on Free State of Jones an abysmal ignorance of American history combined with deep hostility to the working class, and to white workers in particular.
A sprawling industry of race- or gender-obsessed academics, journalists and pundits has come into being in the US over the past several decades. These upper-middle-class elements are engaged in a ferocious struggle for privileges and position. Selfish and blind, they regard race or gender as the essential foundation of society and view all phenomena through that false prism. These petty bourgeois elements make up an increasingly important wing of the establishment; they are one of the pillars of the Democratic Party.
It is only natural that such forces would respond with ill-concealed hostility to a work such as Free State of Jones, which cuts across the racial paradigm and presents an important episode in American history in terms of class conflict. When the various critics decry the film’s “colorblindness” or its “astounding oblivion about race,” this is what they mean: it does not conform to the picture they want to build up, of race as the driving force in social life and of the American population as hopelessly dominated by bigotry and prejudice.
“White Savior, Rape and Romance?,” by Charles Blow in the New York Times is one of the most venomous and symptomatic of the hostile commentaries on the new film.
After blandly noting that the story of Free State of Jones is “quite interesting” and briefly describing the film’s plot, Blow observes snidely, “It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives.”
That’s fine, except the film did not appeal to Hollywood executives, and Ross, despite having directed the enormously successful The Hunger Games, had “a huge difficulty getting it made,” as he told an interviewer. Ross continued, “I had trouble getting it made because it’s a drama, and we’re in a different kind of a popcorn universe now.”
Blow goes on to observe that Free State of Jones, as opposed to Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, “emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.