The Ghosts of Medgar Evers: A Tale of Race, Murder, Mississippi, and Hollywood

Willie Morris, Author
Willie Morris, Author Random House (NY) $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-679-45956-9
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Rob Reiner's 1997 film The Ghosts of Mississippi, about the murder of 1960s civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the eventual conviction of his killer 30 years later, was widely regarded as an earnest but uninspired film redeemed only by James Woods's performance as Evers's flamboyantly racist assassin. It was also a commercial flop. Even so, Mississippi author Morris's account of the making of the film might have been an interesting investigation into the politics of race and popular culture, and a chance to exploit the inherent comedy of movie people in the heartland. But instead, the book itself is well-meaning and uninspired, an overly detailed, credulous account of the minutiae of Hollywood filmmaking, written in the slow rhythm of a cocktail party raconteur dropping names, some familiar, some not. Film principals such as director Reiner and actor Alec Baldwin are quoted at length, speaking in the cliches of the celebrity profile, while Evers's widow Myrlie, who consulted on the film, remains a rather distant figure. The film's technical aspects are exhaustively described, but much of what Morris finds so fascinating will be common knowledge to many movie fans. Indeed, Morris retails some of the hoariest Hollywood stories--Howard Hawks introducing Faulkner to Clark Gable, for example--as if they were brand new. Most disappointingly, Morris, who knew or shared acquaintances with many of the real figures in the case, speaks of the thorny problem of race mostly in grandiloquent platitudes. Readers interested in race or in the murder itself will be bored by the pages of stargazing, while readers interested in film will have read much of this stuff before, about better movies. Author tour. (Feb.)
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