Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern NY and sponsored by Temple Sinai, hosts the next in its social justice series, a panel discussion of Mudbound, a Netflix film by Dee Rees. The film follows two World War II veterans and their families, one black, one white, living on a farm in Mississippi. It is an old-fashioned epic drama about race relations in the 1940s Deep South, adapted from a 2008 novel by Hillary Jordan. It touches on the evil of the Jim Crow era, the oft-ignored post-traumatic stress suffered by service members returning from War, and the stifling sexism of the time. It helps paint a picture of life in the Deep South before the Civil Rights movement in a film that examines class, friendship, racism, and the never-ending struggle against the land.
Mudbound is all about perception – how it can foster empathy and engender contempt, sometimes in the same person. How it can cause one man to look at his land with life affirming pride and another man to see the same plot as the kiss of death. How an act of wartime courage involving a red-tailed plane and a dark-skinned pilot can forever alter one’s opinion of a different race. And how a society can impose unfair, harmful, and absurd restrictions on an entire group simply because those people are seen as inferior by the powers that be. The film invites us to observe its characters, to hear their inner voices, to see what they see, and to challenge our own preconceived notions about race and gender.
The sad reality of Mudbound is that the events that transpired in the 1940s are things that clearly, and too frequently, happen today in America. A person serving the US military during a time of war (and even not in war) should not be subjected to appalling racism and name-calling after they return home. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens in this black and white story. Both families see a member serving their country during wartime, one returning with PTSD and the other enduring racist hatred despite his tour of duty. “This story, which unfortunately as a film, has not had wider distribution, hits even stronger,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, “when one examines what is happening in today’s era. There should be no place for racism, whether it is targeting blacks, browns, Hispanic, Asians, Jews, or others in 2021.”