The Free State of Jones – A Garry Ross film

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I don’t know how it did at the box office, but at the brain office, “The Free State of Jones,” was a great movie, a painful slice of history and sweet to the ears of a Bible-believing Christian.

There have been many great movies about race relations: “Roots,” “Mississippi Burning,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner” and more. Hollyweird and Matthew McCaughey did well in this Civil War story about a group of poor whites and black joining forces, to move against the dark forces of the Confederacy, exploitation, and racism in the 1860,s. It also had a “flash forward” component about the legality of whites and blacks to marry in the 1950’s.

The movie begins with some serious gore, and even though there is conflict and fighting throughout the movie, it tempers after the first five minutes. McCaughey plays Newton Knight, a medic, who is drafted to serve in the South’s army. Being asked to fight in a war that serves the needs of the rich slave-owners and witnessing the death of family face-to-face causes him to follow his conscience, desert the war, and bring his dead nephew home to be buried.

He is a Godly man, quoting scripture and doing funeral services in a time of conflicted loyalties. He is also a conscientious objector and fighting for survival.

The penalty for desertion is going back to the front line, or death. On the run, Knight is befriended by slaves who have run away from their abusive masters.

Thus begins an unusual coalition of runaway slaves, poor whites, and small farmers who have had their land and produce expropriated by the Southern military forces. It is a great, true story of people joining forces against oppression, theft and injustice. The story reminded me of many others being played out in the history of Davids against Goliaths.

A very common theme in fiction and Hollywood, is the small group of the righteous winning against overwhelming odds, kinda like the early Christian disciples against the Jewish leadership and brutal Roman guards back in the first century.

The film also had a message of miscegenation, which is the big boy word for interracial marriage. You see, Mr. Newton was not the only deserter. When he went to hide in the swamps, his wife took off with their son for safer grounds. Our hero understood. Big decisions carry big consequences. Not only was he running for his life, he also lost the love of his life. As time passes, this poor white farmer falls in love with a black runaway slave, which was illegal and continued to be so, for many decades.

My wife is part African-American. As we were leaving the theater, very satisfied with the film, we remarked that back in the day, what we did by marrying would not be legal in the South. My wife was sad to think of what her great grandmother experienced as a child and young woman. Biracial marriages are as common as corn here in the great state of California, but we have more freedom than other communities or nations.

I would recommend this movie for families who have teens. It could lead to a good discussion of race relations, and also the reconciliatory nature of Christ. A very cool part of the story is where the wayward wife comes back home and is taken in by her husband and his new wife. The Christians in this movie talked the talk and walked the walk. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit work in the hearts where ex-wives of the same man can have a relationship of respect, love and support. The movie was a very good testimonial of this and other miracles. The “Free State” is one where people can live their lives without oppression and people are free to forgive. That my friend is a good state to live in!

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  1. I also saw this movie. I enjoyed it and saw many great lessons to be learned. It was nice to have the story told from the poor southern men and not the wealthy plantation owner.

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