Free State of Jones (film)
|Free State of Jones|
|Directed by||Gary Ross|
|Screenplay by||Gary Ross|
|Music by||Nicholas Britell|
|Distributed by||STX Entertainment|
|Box office||$25 million|
Free State of Jones is a 2016 American historical war film inspired by the life of Newton Knight and his armed revolt against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi, throughout the American Civil War. Written and directed by Gary Ross, the film stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, and Keri Russell.
The story is based on the history of Jones County, Mississippi, during the Civil War and the period immediately after it. The overall story follows the history of Jones County, and some of the events portrayed are true. The film is credited as being "based on the books The Free State of Jones by Victoria E. Bynum and The State of Jones by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer."
After surviving the 1862 Battle of Corinth and being told of the Twenty Negro Law that allows wealthy men to avoid being conscripted into military service, Newton Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County serving as a battlefield nurse in the Confederate army, deserts and returns home to his wife Serena after seeing his nephew Daniel get shot and killed. Upon returning home, he befriends Rachel, an enslaved woman who has secretly learned to read.
Newton's disenchantment with the Confederacy grows after finding out that Confederate troops have been confiscating crops and livestock from his fellow farmers as "taxes" to support the war effort. After helping one family resist such a raid, he is pursued by a Confederate slave patrol and gets bitten by an attack dog. With the help of abolitionist-oriented Aunt Sally and sympathetic slaves, he escapes to a swamp where a camp of escaped slaves led by Moses Washington tend to his wounds.
After the Siege of Vicksburg, more rebel soldiers desert. Most flee into the swamps, and Newton is elected as a captain to organize them against efforts to force them back into service. The ex-Confederates, runaway slaves, and farmers of Jones County start a revolt against the Confederacy. They raid Confederate convoys for food and supplies and capture a piece of southeast Mississippi, organizing it as the "Free State of Jones." Despite getting little help from the Union, Newton's firm leadership and the rebels' use of the terrain and various deceptions enable them to hold out until 1865, when the Confederacy is dissolved.
Newton continues to fight racial inequality after the war. He helps free Moses' son from an "apprenticeship" to Rachel's former master. After Moses is lynched while registering freedmen to vote, Newton is seen participating in a march of voters to the polls while they sing "John Brown's Body". He eventually has a son with Rachel named Jason. Since they are unable to legally marry, Newton arranges for her to be deeded a parcel of his land for farming.
The film ends with Newton's great-grandson, Davis Knight, being arrested under Mississippi's anti-miscegenation laws in 1948. Since he is possibly of one-eighth black descent, the law considers him to be black, and he therefore cannot legally marry his long-time white sweetheart. He is sentenced to five years in prison, but his conviction is thrown out by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1949, rather than risk the law being declared unconstitutional in light of the emerging civil rights movement.
- Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight
- Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel
- Mahershala Ali as Moses Washington
- Keri Russell as Serena Knight
- Christopher Berry as Jasper Collins
- Sean Bridgers as Will Sumrall
- Jacob Lofland as Daniel
- Thomas Francis Murphy as Col. Elias Hood
- Bill Tangradi as Lt. Barbour
- Brian Lee Franklin as Davis Knight
- Kerry Cahill as Mary
- Joe Chrest as James Eakins
- Jessica Collins as Annie
- Gary Grubbs as the Prosecutor
- Kirk Bovill as Merchant
- Donald Watkins as Wilson
- Artrial Clark as Eli
- Manny Penton as Surgeon
- Wayne Pére as Col. Robert Lowry
The film was a passion project for Ross, who spent ten years developing it. He was initially drawn to make the movie out of a desire to examine the Reconstruction era south, an era that, according to him, is poorly represented in film, quoting Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation as examples of "the last movies that did it". In preparation, Ross did a "tremendous amount of research", studying not only the Civil War but also the historiography of the war, the latter because he wanted "to debunk a lot of the myths" surrounding the events. Speaking to Slash Film about the research for the film, Ross remarked, "I don’t think I did anything but read for a couple of years" 
Ross finished writing the film prior to working on The Hunger Games, although he struggled to find much in way of financing: he felt that working on The Hunger Games would help him, and thus declined to work on the sequels. Afterwards he still had trouble getting the movie made, which he attributes to the fact that "we're in a different kind of a popcorn universe now".
Matthew McConaughey's casting was announced in November 2014  with other casting announcements made in early 2015. Angelo Piazza III, Marksville, La. and Jack's Powder Keg Company participated in the production with their cannon and black powder.
Principal photography began on February 23, and was scheduled to end on May 28. On March 9 Adam Fogelson, Chairman of STX Entertainment announced the start of the production in and around New Orleans, with the release of a first look photo. In May 2015 shooting was scheduled for Clinton, with East Feliciana Parish as a filming set. On May 25, 2015, some filming took place at Chicot State Park near Ville Platte, Louisiana.
Free State of Jones grossed $20.8 million in North America and $4.2 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $25 million, against a production budget of $50 million.
The film was released in the United States and Canada on June 24, 2016, alongside Independence Day: Resurgence and The Shallows and was projected to gross around $10 million in its opening weekend from 2,815 theaters. The film grossed $365,000 from its Thursday previews and $2.7 million on its first day. In its opening weekend the film grossed $7.6 million, finishing 6th at the box office behind Finding Dory ($73 million), Independence Day: Resurgence ($41 million), Central Intelligence ($18.2 million), The Shallows ($16.8 million) and The Conjuring 2 ($7.7 million).
On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film has an approval rating of 46% based on 184 reviews and an average rating of 5.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Free State of Jones has the noblest of intentions, but they aren't enough to make up for its stilted treatment of a fascinating real-life story." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 53 out of 100 based on reviews from 38 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.
Film critic Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post said, "[Director] Ross has insisted that he didn't want 'Free State of Jones' to become another white savior movie, but that's precisely what it is, especially during scenes when the murderous injustice of slavery is refracted through Knight’s frustrated tears." Hornaday said the film could have avoided the trope by focusing more on Knight's alliance with a former slave or his relationships with his wife and an enslaved house servant. The Atlantic's Vann R. Newkirk II said, "To say that McConaughey's portrayal of Newton Knight is a white savior perhaps undersells the trope... A better film would have muddled the clean white-savior narrative with an actual exploration of what the racial politics of a mixed-race insurgency in the South might have been like."
The New York Times selected it as a "critic's pick". Reviewer A. O. Scott called it "a neglected and fascinating chapter in American history" and said it used "the tools of Hollywood spectacle to restore a measure of clarity to our understanding of the war and its aftermath." Scott also said, "...while Mr. Ross's story makes Newton unambiguously heroic, this is not yet another film about a white savior sacrificing himself on behalf of the darker-skinned oppressed. Nor for that matter is it the story of a white sinner redeemed by the superhuman selflessness of black people. Free State of Jones is a rarer thing: a film that tries to strike sparks of political insight from a well-worn genre template."
The New Yorker film critic Richard Brody gave it a positive review, saying, "It's tempting to shunt Free State of Jones into the familiar genre of the white-savior tale, but Newton Knight appears as something else—not so much as a savior but as an avatar of a new South. By seeing his own interests clearly and considering the economic and social structure of his locale and his nation insightfully, he's able to transcend heritage and history and to forge a community, both during and after the war, that will be fair, inclusive, and—yes—post-racial."
|Source: media notes|
- Slave states and free states
- Tap Roots, a 1948 film loosely based on the life story of Newton Knight
- Voting rights in the United States
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- Fleming, Mike Jr.; Busch, Anita (November 5, 2014). "Matthew McConaughey & Gary Ross Mount Civil War Saga; Bob Simonds' STX In Talks To Finance". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
- LaSalle, Mick (December 30, 2015). "Movies to look for (maybe) in 2016". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California: Hearst Communications. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
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- "Donald Watkins". IMDb. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
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- Daye, Raymond L. (May 30, 2016). "Local Civil War re-enactors involved in summer film projects". Bunkie Record. Surf New Media. Archived from the original on November 22, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
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- Warren, Stephanie (March 4, 2015). "Major motion picture to be filmed in Clinton". The Advocate. Retrieved March 7, 2015.
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- Parker, Ryan (January 9, 2016). "Matthew McConaughey Starrer 'Free State of Jones' Trailer Released". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Lang, Brent (June 22, 2016). "Box Office: 'Independence Day: Resurgence' No Match for 'Finding Dory'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 22, 2016.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 26, 2016). "'Dory' Swallows 'Resurgence'; 'Shallows' Rides $16M Wave; 'Free State Of Jones' & 'Neon Demon' Wounded". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
- "Weekend Box Office Results for June 24–26, 2016". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
- "Free State of Jones (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Los Angeles, California: Fandango Media. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
- "Free State of Jones Reviews". Metacritic. Los Angeles, California: CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "Free State of Jones". CinemaScore. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Brevet, Brad (June 23, 2016). "'Independence Day', 'Shallows' & 'Free State of Jones' Must Contend with 'Finding Dory'". Box Office Mojo. Seattle, Washington: IMDb. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Hornaday, Ann (June 23, 2016). "'Free State of Jones' reveals a little-known chapter of Civil War history". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 24, 2016.
In interviews, Ross has insisted that he didn't want 'Free State of Jones' to become another white savior movie, but that's precisely what it is, especially during scenes when the murderous injustice of slavery is refracted through Knight's frustrated tears.
- Newkirk II, Vann R. (June 28, 2016). "The Faux-Enlightened Free State of Jones". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
- Scott, A. O. (June 23, 2016). "Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in 'Free State of Jones'". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- Scott, A. O. (June 23, 2016). "Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in 'Free State of Jones'". The New York Times. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
- Brody, Richard (June 23, 2016). "The Historical Imagination and Free State of Jones". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
- Britell, Nicholas; Williams, Lucinda (2016). Free State of Jones: original motion picture soundtrack (Media notes). New York: STX Recording.
- Bynum, Vikki E. (2016). The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9781469627052.
- Downing, David C. (2007). A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy. Nashville: Cumberland House. ISBN 9781581825879.