Thus, Willie Morris begins an intensely personal journey--both dramatic and emotional--involving racism, murder, history, and Hollywood.
For years Morris has portrayed American life through lyrical evocations of his own experience. Now he brings together the harsh realities of race and the magical illusions of Hollywood in an unusual book about the making of the movie Ghosts of Mississippi and its more complicated historical background: the 1963 assassination of the courageous civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the conviction thirty years later of his killer, Byron De La Beckwith, in one of the most striking cases in the annals of American jurisprudence.
The Ghosts of Medgar Evers is not only a dramatic account of the making of a major motion picture about one of the most heinous crimes of this century; it is also an examination of the murder itself and the people involved that explains why it took so long for justice to prevail.
Morris was on hand both for the trial and for the making of the movie. As the filming progressed, layer after layer of ironies, of personal and public deja vus, unfolded. With director Rob Reiner and producer Fred Zollo, Morris traveled the Mississippi back roads known to him since boyhood, surveying the story's real locales. He was present when the assassination was reenacted at the actual murder scene, and on the Hollywood soundstages when the trial was filmed--recreations that involved a number of participants in the original events, including three of Evers's children, who witnessed his death in 1963. His sons Darrell and Van Evers portrayed themselves as adults in the movie, and his daughter, Reena, played a juror in the 1994 trial. The filming, Morris reports, was often emotionally wrenching, particularly for the family members: When Alec Baldwin, as assistant district attorney Bobby DeLaughter, made his final summary to the jury, Reena wept openly.
The South today and the unadorned politics of race are juxtaposed and intermingled with the politics and mechanics of moviemaking.
The Ghosts of Medgar Evers is Willie Morris at his best.
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