Prom Night in Mississippi

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In 1997, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman offered to pay for the senior prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi under one condition: the prom had to be racially integrated. His offer was ignored. In 2008, Freeman offered again.

This time the school board accepted, and history was made. Charleston High School had its first-ever integrated prom – in 2008. Until then, blacks and whites had had separate proms even though their classrooms have been integrated for decades.

Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman follows students, teachers and parents in the lead-up to the big day. This seemingly inconsequential rite of passage suddenly becomes profound as the weight of history falls on teenage shoulders. We quickly learn that change does not come easily in this sleepy Delta town. Freeman’s generosity fans the flames of racism – and racism in Charleston has a distinctly generational tinge. Some white parents forbid their children to attend the integrated prom and hold a separate white-only dance.

“Billy Joe,” an enlightened white senior, appears on camera in shadow, fearing his racist parents will disown him if they know his true feelings. This documentary captures a big moment in a small town, where hope finally blossoms in black, white and a whole lot of taffeta.

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