Ghosts of Mississippi

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Ghosts of Mississippi
Ghosts of mississippi.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRob Reiner
Written byLewis Colick
Produced byNicholas Paleologos
Rob Reiner
Andrew Scheinman
Frederick M. Zollo
Charles Newirth
Jeff Stott
CinematographyJohn Seale
Edited byRobert Leighton
Music byMarc Shaiman
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • December 20, 1996 (1996-12-20)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$36 million[1]
Box office$13,323,144

Ghosts of Mississippi is a 1996 American biographical courtroom drama film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, and James Woods. The plot is based on the true story of the 1994 trial of Byron De La Beckwith, the white supremacist accused of the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

James Woods was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Byron De La Beckwith, but lost to Cuba Gooding Jr.[2] The original music score was composed by Marc Shaiman and the cinematography is by John Seale.


Medgar Evers was an African-American civil rights activist in Mississippi murdered on June 12, 1963. It was suspected that Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist, was the murderer. He had been tried twice in the 1960s and both trials ended in hung juries. Evers' widow Myrlie Evers had been trying to bring De La Beckwith to justice for over 25 years. In 1989, emboldened by a newspaper article by Jerry Mitchell exposing jury tampering by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission in the first two trials, Myrlie Evers believed she had what it takes to bring him to trial again. Although most of the evidence from the old trial had disappeared, Bobby DeLaughter, an assistant District Attorney, decided to help her despite being warned that it might hurt his political aspirations and despite the strain that it caused in his marriage. DeLaughter forms a team of investigators from his office, however investigation suffers many setbacks. After learning that several of the key witnesses have died, and the court transcript of their testimony from the 1960s trials is lost, the team is convinced this is a futile effort. This is re-inforced when DeLaughter fails at a desperate strategy of convincing two police officers who provided De La Beckwith with an alibi in the 1960s trials to admit they lied under oath. However, their pessimism fades with two discoveries. The rifle used in the murder, thought to have been lost, was hiding in plain sight. Later, one of the investigators learns of the existence of a witness unknown to the prosecution in the 1960s trials, Delmar Dennis. Dennis was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who agreed to be an undercover informant for the FBI. Dennis testified against the Klan in the Mississippi Burning case, and once mentioned having met De La Beckwith. The investigation turns to finding Dennis, who was living in hiding since turning state's evidence on the KKK, to see what he knows of the case. Once confirming Dennis indeed had met De La Beckwith, the team is optimistic they have enough to secure a new indictment. As knowledge becomes public that the district attorney's office has re-opened the case, white supremacist elements threaten DeLaughter and his children, having by this time separated from his wife. After committing to Myrlie that he will try De La Beckwith again, Myrlie, initially skeptical of DeLaughter, reveals she has a court certified transcript of one of the 1960s trails in her possession. DeLaughter had long sought such a transcript to be able to read testimony from deceased witnesses to the jury for the new trial. DeLaughter mostly presents the same case as was presented in the 1960s trial, except using Dennis and two other witnesses to testify as substitutes for deceased witnesses, and having Detective Lloyd Bennett read the testimony of his father, Detective LC Bennett, the officer who found the murder weapon while searching the crime scene, to the jury. In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The film ends with Myrlie tearfully rejoicing to the assembled crowd at the courthouse that she never gave up in the fight for justice for Medger.



The soundtrack of the film, with a score by Marc Shaiman, featured two versions of the Billy Taylor composition "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" – one sung by Dionne Farris and the other by Nina Simone – as well as numbers by Muddy Waters, Tony Bennett, Robert Johnson and B.B. King.[3]


The film received mixed reviews from critics, with praises going to Goldberg and Woods.[4][5][6] Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 43% approval rating based on 30 reviews, with an average rating of 5.70/10. The site's consensus states: "James Woods is convincing as a white supremacist, but everything else rings false in this courtroom drama, which examines a weighty subject from the least interesting perspective."[7] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[8] Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both gave the film two thumbs down.[9]

The film was not a financial success, making less than half of its budget back.[10]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[11] Best Supporting Actor James Woods Nominated
Best Makeup Matthew W. Mungle and Deborah La Mia Denaver Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Cast Ensemble Alec Baldwin, Lucas Black, Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy,
Virginia Madsen, Craig T. Nelson, Susanna Thompson and James Woods
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[12] Best Supporting Actor James Woods Nominated
Critics Choice Awards[13] Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[14] Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Nominated
Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture Rob Reiner Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Whoopi Goldberg Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Awards[15] Best Supporting Actor James Woods Nominated
Political Film Society Awards Human Rights Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[16] Best Supporting Actor James Woods Runner-up

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) - Financial Information".
  2. ^ 1997|
  3. ^ Steve McDonald, "Marc Shaiman: Ghosts of Mississippi", AllMusic Review.
  4. ^ FILM REVIEW -- 'Mississippi' a Burning Drama on Evers Murder / Goldberg, Woods superb in story spanning 30 years - SFGate
  5. ^ Roger
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  8. ^ "Home". CinemaScore. Retrieved 2022-03-05.
  9. ^ Evita, Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, One Fine Day, My Fellow Americans, Scream, Ghosts of Mississippi, 1996 — Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews
  10. ^ "Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  11. ^ "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2011.
  12. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  13. ^ "The BFCA Critics' Choice Awards :: 1996". Broadcast Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008.
  14. ^ "Ghosts of Mississippi – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  15. ^ "1st Annual Film Awards (1996)". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  16. ^ "1996 SEFA Awards". Retrieved May 15, 2021.

External links[edit]