Free State of Jones, the new film from writer and director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) and starring Matthew McConaughey, depicts the true story of Newton Knight, a Mississippi farmer and Confederate dissident who led an army of rebels, and continued to fight for African-Americans rights after the Civil War has ended. 

As the New York Times reports, the film claims to be the first in decades to depict Reconstruction, and might be Hollywood's first drama to include footnotes. Reading and researching for two years before even beginning to write a script, and consulting with a variety of historians, Ross explains the importance of illustrating Knight as a white ally, not a white savior.

Mr. Ross said he carefully considered how to depict Knight’s relationships with African-Americans. In a scene showing the meeting of the Union League (which in the South functioned as a black secret society promoting the Republican Party and voting rights of freedmen), Mr. Ross noted that Moses Washington, a fictional African-American character, leads the meeting while Knight sits to the side. The Union League, he writes on the site, was “an incubator of black political agency.”

Another fictionalized scene — in which Knight leads a group of African Americans into town to attempt to vote in the fraud-ridden state election of 1875 — may smack to some of white saviorism. But it can be justified, Mr. Ross said, by a document showing that in 1875 Knight was made a colonel in a unit set up by Mississipi’s radical Republican governor Adlebert Ames to protect the voting rights of African-Americans — “incontrovertible proof,” he said, of Knight’s “commitment to racial justice.”

Head over to the New York Times to read the full article and check out the film's trailer below. If you're interested in learning more about Reconstruction, you can check out some great lectures courtesy of Yale Courses here.


Feature image via STX Entertainment