Owning Our Stories | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Owning Our Stories

The last time I talked to documentary filmmaker Micki Dickoff, we were standing on Center Avenue in my hometown during the Edgar Ray Killen trial. I was yelling at her for trying to own the story of long-overdue justice and the people who had fought for it for so long.

When I first met Dickoff months before that, I was impressed with her, as I used to be with the steady stream of out-of-state filmmakers who show up in Mississippi looking for fame, fortune and awards. She had interviewed me, along with real heroes like Bob Moses, about the struggle for justice in old civil rights cases like the 1964 murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

Back then, I thought all the documentary attention to Mississippi was a good thing—that the filmmakers were noticing what I'd seen since I came back home: a complex cauldron where the race question is still raw and most likely to come full circle due to so many local efforts, especially by new generations who are tired of the silence and injustice. I've told the string of outsider filmmakers I've helped that it is not a one-dimensional story: Mississippi has made amazing progress, and we have a long distance to go. Don't just breeze in looking for the same brand of ‘60s-era Klan terrorism, and don't come here looking to prove that all that's in the past.

Neither is correct.

With Dickoff, though, my problem ran even deeper. When photographer Kate Medley and I—and other young members of our reporting team—got to Neshoba County for the state trial that I had waited for all my life, we discovered that Dickoff "owned" the story. That is, she had gotten there first and convinced most of the major figures in the story, including family members of the victims, to sign exclusive contracts to talk only to her.

This, I would discover, is the way many filmmakers work. The most remarkable moment for me came in the courtroom when I walked up to Florence Mars, a hero of mine from back when she wrote the daring "Witness in Philadelphia" that inspired me to want to tell true stories about my state, too. She had had a stroke and was in her wheelchair. I went up to her to shake her hand. I didn't have a big interview in mind, but I mentioned that I would like to talk to her for a few minutes later.

"I'll have to ask Micki Dickoff," she said.

This is why I ended up yelling at Dickoff on the street, saying something like how dare she come to Mississippi and shut out hometown journalists who had cried, and prayed, and started petitions for just such a moment their whole lives. Yes, I was fuming. Missing the point, she told me that she would allow Mars to talk to me. I walked away.

This was only a small example of what we've seen documentary makers pull. It was horrifying to watch crews at that trial nastily competing with each other, and bad-talking the others, not to mention treat Mississippians like we were idiots. Our team also saw things that made our journalistic skin crawl—including documentary folks pretending to be blatant bigots to get people who knew Killen to talk. There was subterfuge afoot.

Now, Jerry Mitchell at The Clarion-Ledger has gotten a copy of the film. Last Sunday, he wrote a piece about it, which seems to be attempting to push for more prosecutions in the case, including Billy Wayne Posey, a man who used to pump my daddy's gas at the West End Phillips 66 station and give me candy. The FBI has long believed that he was a primary organizer of the murders.

I'm all for more prosecutions. But it's other juicy stuff that concerns me, such as this from Mitchell: "Posey told authorities he never belonged to the Klan, but Posey's brother, Richard, told filmmakers, ‘Ninety percent of the people in Neshoba County, Mississippi, were Klansmen. Hell, I was in there. A man keeps coming to your house, sticking (his) nose in your damn business, (he's) going to get it chopped off sooner or later.'"

Ninety percent of Neshoba Countians were Klansmen? Are we sure? Did the filmmakers do any fact-checking of this statement before putting that hyperbolic quote in the film? The truth is bad enough—even as probably 90 percent of white Neshoba County turned their heads away from the Klan, and condoned the violence with a conspiracy of silence, the majority of them were not in the Klan, which had just re-formed after a long period of dormancy in order to fight the efforts of Freedom Summer 1964.

They killed Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner on Day 1 of Freedom Summer.

But those are the kinds of quotes that many filmmakers love, no matter how they get them. It's about drama, it's about juice—but it's not always about pushing facts about what really happened in Mississippi.

This hasn't been our only sour experience with documentarians while on the civil-rights beat in Mississippi. The Jackson Free Press' investigative efforts have been cut out of documentaries (including one that was supposed to be about us, until a prime suspect turned up alive). We have been asked by a filmmaker to help do things we consider unethical—including wearing hidden cameras and faking car breakdowns to try to lure Klansmen out of their homes for dramatic footage. We refused. We have also had a documentary maker from up north somewhere lie to a major source for one of our stories—who had contacted us—telling him we'd said awful things about him so he wouldn't talk to us.

A native Mississippian, though, he believed us, and we did a story about his family that he loved (which turned up in a trial).

We have also had our brains picked nearly bare over hours and days of shooting with documentary makers who tell us they're here to make stories about Mississippians' efforts and then always seem to end up wanting to tell the glorious story of how they "came back" to Mississippi—some are from here; some not—to tell our story for us.

Worse, always worse, we have watched documentary makers—and other journalists—selectively choose footage and interviews that tell a one-dimensional story about our state. The message is clear: We haven't changed, and the rest of the country and world is better than we are.

What this kind of documentary posing and subterfuge by outsiders tells me is that we card-carrying Mississippians have to pick up cameras, laptops and microphones and tell our own stories, in their full glory, painful shame and twisted complexity. And when outsiders come in and get it wrong, we've owe it to each other to set the record straight.

Previous Comments

ID
76560
Comment

You have a lot of nerve to criticize a film you have not seen. Is that what a good journalist does? Jerry Mitchell chose to write about a very small part of the film which does call for the prosecution of all the men who participated in the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. However, our film is much more complex than that. Ultimately, our film is about healing and racial reconciliation, and about bringing people together; it is definitely not a one-dimensional story. I started researching this film in 1999 when I met Carolyn Goodman and the Chaney family. Both families asked me to make a film that would tell the truth about how a mob of Klansmen, who bragged openly about killing three innocent, unarmed kids, could get away with murder for 40 years. In 2004, I teamed with my friend and colleague Tony Pagano to make NESHOBA. Tony and I funded the entire film out-of-pocket, using our credit cards, taking second mortgages on our homes and writing grants. We worked without salary for four years and did every job ourselves including all the pre production, production and post production. We shot 300 hours of footage and made 20 trips to Mississippi during 2004, 2005 and 2006. Since we had been filming for a year before the trial began (and did not know when we started filming that there would be an indictment or a trial), Tony and I became very close with the victims’ families and with heroes like Florence Mars. I spoke with Florence, Carolyn Goodman and Fannie Lee Chaney every Saturday since 2004, until each passed away. They were my friends and I miss them dearly. For the record, Tony and I did not own anybody’s story nor did we have exclusive contracts with anyone. Florence and the families took it upon themselves not to give interviews with other filmmakers, as they were concerned by all the film crews who showed up at the trial who had big budgets and quick turnarounds. We, of course, appreciated their loyalty. I also resent your accusation that we pretended to be bigots to get interviews with anyone, including Killen. We lied to no one. We merely asked people to tell their own stories. All anyone has to do is Google my name to see who I am and the kinds of films I’ve made over the past 30 years. I even gave the Killen family some of my films, so they could see my work. I wasn’t hiding from anyone. Our goal was to tell the story from many points of view, including Killen’s, in order to get at the truth. You also insinuate that I am an “outsider,” but did you know I have a personal connection to Mississippi too? My father grew up in the Delta, in a small town called Itta Bena. I spent much of my childhood in Mississippi, including the summer of 1964. I begged my parents to let me participate in Freedom Summer, but because I was only 17 at the time, they would not give me permission. The murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner haunted me my whole life. I only wish my father was still alive to see the film. This is not just your story, Donna, but my story too! In fact, it is America’s story. Your use of the word “outsiders” has echoes of the “us against them” mentality that prevailed in Mississippi when the Freedom Summer volunteers arrived. Since you haven’t seen the film, Donna, how do you know we got it wrong? We believe our film finally tells the unvarnished truth – the good, the bad and the ugly! -- Micki Dickoff, filmmaker

Author
Micki
Date
2008-04-03T15:28:40-06:00
ID
76561
Comment

I didn't criticize a film I have not seen. I criticized methods I did see, efforts to "own" the sources and quotes from the film that were reported last weekend—like the one that implies that 90 percent of Neshoba Countians (white ones, I assume) were in the Klan in 1964. I hope your film will tell the truth and do some good—but that does not mean that I believe in the methods you used to get it done. I do not own the story of race in this state, nor have I tried to, nor have I asked people to act like I do. I have tried to get parts of it told that have never been told, and help Mississippians tell it themselves. But the experiences I've had, and other native journalists, with national media, several documentary makers among them, have not been inspiring. If you did not have exclusive contracts with all the people who said you did, that's a different story than in 2005 when you told me that you would give Florence Mars permission to talk with me. Many journalists were frustrated during the trial about the exclusive games documentary makers were trying to play. And we definitely saw people pretend to be bigots; I did not say who in the piece and do not intend to. They know who they are.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T15:50:08-06:00
ID
76562
Comment

Wow. I think that is a very open and honest response to ladd's article. I'm glad to see some feedback from someone who is targeted by media.

Author
Constitution
Date
2008-04-03T15:55:55-06:00
ID
76563
Comment

Constitution, with due respect, your every comment has been critical of me/the JFP here so far! That seems to be what you're trolling for—and I rather doubt you have enough information about this exchange to have any idea what is honest and what isn't. You're just trolling. My column was as honest as it could be based on what I've seen. I believe it's high time that Mississippians start to speak up about both how we're betrayed, and the methods used to get those stories. I happen to have been in a place over the last few years to observe a whole lot of media coming here from elsewhere to tell their stories. I don't mind the honest criticism of Mississippi; what I cannot stand is the hubris of thinking they have the right to tell those stories for us and to everything possible to have the exclusive on those stories. I used to believe everything documentary makers said to me because I so respect that art form. But so many experiences later, I've been jaded toward many of them at this point based on their own actions. I realize it won't be popular among our media visitors for us to speak out about what we've seen, but hey, telling true stories is what it's all about.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T16:02:48-06:00
ID
76564
Comment

I won't speak to the larger issue here about media responsibility - but in reference to the particular claim from Richard Posey (the "hell, 90 per cent of Neshoba County was Klan" kind of statement): I remember that Florence told me in the seventies (and later put it in her book, I remember) that one Klansman told her that if the national media hadn't come to town the KKK believe that they would have had every white man join. Now Florence and I both knew that that claim was a significant exaggeration - but the Klan believed it. What the statement by Posey shows is what the Klan believed. The viewer of the documentary might not understand that it was a statement of the perception held by the bedsheet brigade, rather than a factual estimate. I hope that the film clarifies that difference

Author
footsy
Date
2008-04-03T17:29:13-06:00
ID
76565
Comment

Right, footsy. The Kluckers did believe they could get every white person as a member. But that doesn't mean they could, or did. Even as they did way too little to stop the discrimination and the violence, most white people did not want to be seen as directly associated with violence, which being in the Klan was. My problem with those kinds of quotes is they say to the world exactly what the world wants to think about Neshoba County and Mississippi, with no nuance attached: That the whole state, nearly was in the Klan. That's just not accurate. At least in the print journalism world, we are responsible for choosing quotes that do not inaccurately portray a situation, or at least for immediately explaining why they don't. (That doesn't mean all print journalists follow that ethic; the Ledger's use of Melton's inaccurate quotes about school drop-out rates come to mind, without any kind of correction on their part.) As Micki said, I haven't seen the film. She didn't give it to me for advance publicity, even though I spent time helping on it, which is fine. I'm guessing she knew that I wasn't pleased with her after I told her off on Center Avenue. So maybe the next thing that happens after that quote in the advance copy is that a narrator explains what the reality of the Klan was in Mississippi then, in an accurate way, and the Ledger just left out that part in their article. We can all hope. And I must say that it is really offensive to me to be accused of wanting to "own" a story about my home that I want to told accurately and researched fairly—by someone whom people there certainly seemed to believe they had exclusive contracts with, that not only applied to other out-of-state documentarians, but to journalists in the state. Mississippians are tired of being used as the whipping boy for the country; we can take our hits, and deserve them, but you damn well better deliver them fairly and accurately. If you don't, it is incumbent on us to speak out, regardless of your intentions. And the fact that you worked hard is nice, but irrevelvant, considering the work I see happen every day in the state toward racial understanding.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T18:43:47-06:00
ID
76566
Comment

So would you be available to testify to another Neshoba Countian - not as a journalist, but as a local - what you remember about school desegregation?

Author
footsy
Date
2008-04-03T18:47:58-06:00
ID
76567
Comment

Ms. Ladd, First, let me say that this is not in response to this singular editorial, but a series of editorials with a similar tone that have addressed both the reporting of the efforts at truth and justice in the Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner case and the efforts themselves. I don't deny that some documentary filmmakers have been unscrupulous and dishonest, but from what I have directly observed, Micki Dickoff is a woman with integrity and with a passionate interest in using the Neshoba documentary as a vehicle for truth, justice, reconciliation, and change. I also respect your belief that stories should be told by those directly involved with or affected by the story, but that does not mean that others cannot or should not write about or otherwise document those stories. Sometimes it takes people from the outside to convey a story honestly and at least somewhat objectively. You've said that your problem is with stories not being told honestly, but the tone of many of your editorials related to this issue is that only Mississippians should tell their stories and, further, that only you and the JFP have the insight and integrity to honestly document and report these stories. I have been troubled by the continual blatant or implied use of the "outsider" label by the Mississippi press and others, including members of the Philadelphia Coalition, in their own incomplete and dishonest narratives about the push for justice in the Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner case since I became involved in 2004. People I have come to respect and admire, including family members of the martyrs, have had their characters assassinated and their efforts marginalized by members of the Mississippi press and even those who claim to be about truth, justice, and reconciliation. And, I need not remind you of the history of the press in Mississippi when it comes to reporting of the movement and its workers. Why would the families of the victims trust the Mississippi press to tell their story accurately and honestly? Its not so surprising that they would prefer to have someone they trust tell their stories. I know my experiences with media from Mississippi has made me distrustful of media in general. How is the story of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner any more yours/JFP's or any other Mississippi press than it is the story of the families of the martyrs who chose to have Micki Dickoff tell their stories. This goes for the efforts to pursue truth and justice in this case as well. How is the story of efforts to pursue justice in the case any more the Philadelphia Coalition's, Jerry Mitchell's, or yours/JFP's than it is the story of the alliance of family members of the martyrs, civil rights movement veterans, and other concerned individuals--inside and outside of Mississippi--who have pushed for truth and justice for many, many years. All have contributed. Again, I'm not denying that you've had these negative experiences with documentarians and national journalists, but the Mississippi press is just as guilty of misrepresentation in regards to the Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner case and the efforts to pursue truth and justice in said case. Mississippi did not make the progress it has made without outside help or criticism. The strength of Mississippi's Civil Rights Movement was its local leadership, but that strength was given further muscle through outside help. -Jared Story

Author
Jared Story
Date
2008-04-03T18:50:32-06:00
ID
76568
Comment

Sure. You wrote me about that, didn't you? Wait—you're not doing a documentary, are you? I'm totally burnt out on that medium, when it comes to race in Mississippi, anyway. (And they haven't all been negative experiences. For instance, I've loved working with Keith Beauchamps on promoting the Till film, and he helped me on a story about Dee-Moore. And Andrew Yates seems to be a great guy as well. But, over all, I'm doc-weary.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T18:51:20-06:00
ID
76569
Comment

Do we know the status of Mississippi Remixed?

Author
emilyb
Date
2008-04-03T18:54:33-06:00
ID
76570
Comment

Mine is not a documentary film; it's a book, an insider's history. My process is conversation, and after I write I hand it back to the testifier in order to get (her) okay that I represented her words and meaning accurately. In this particular case, because the piece is already far along and because of who you are I would be willing to share the entire ms for your insightful comment (I did the same with Dick M.) Perhaps we should take this off the blog to a private email conversation; you have my email address on file, I believe.

Author
footsy
Date
2008-04-03T19:02:40-06:00
ID
76571
Comment

OK, footsy, let me look for your e-mail. Sorry I haven't written back, yet. I'm getting more judicious with how I allow my brain to be picked on these issues, because I've spent hours, no days, no weeks helping documentary makers visiting from other places. I'm at a place where I know that the best thing I can do is tell my own stories. ;-) Emily, I don't know. I know they changed the focus of it pretty dramatically. I spent a lot of time, I mean a lot of time, helping on that one. I'm cautiously optimistic that it's going to be a good doc. We'll see.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T19:07:57-06:00
ID
76572
Comment

Just saw your post, Jared. Thanks for posting. I think I wrote this column, in a fit of passion, because I think it's time to open this dialogue up and make it public. I saw that side of Micki, too, and admired it. I also saw other stuff in Neshoba County that I did not admire. I fully realize that filmmakers are never held to the same standards as print journalists, but that doesn't mean I have to think it's a positive thing. I also respect your belief that stories should be told by those directly involved with or affected by the story, but that does not mean that others cannot or should not write about or otherwise document those stories. Of course that's true. I've never said otherwise. I'm calling out specific examples of the kinds of reporting I do not admire, and at this point there has been a mountain of it. Sometimes it takes people from the outside to convey a story honestly and at least somewhat objectively. Well, sure. I don't disagree with that. There has been wonderful reporting done outside Mississippi, for instance, about events in Mississippi. I have not said otherwise. But I have observed, repeatedly now, instances of media misrepresenting things in Mississippi, including basic truths about the Movement, as well as the cases they choose to cover, generalizations (90 percenet Kluckers, blah, blah), the extent that non-violence did and did not work; the role of the Deacons of Defense (usually just left out), and so on. But the tone of many of your editorials related to this issue is that only Mississippians should tell their stories and, further, that only you and the JFP have the insight and integrity to honestly document and report these stories. The "tone"? Nope, you're missing my point. And my actual words have sure never said that. Why? Because I don't believe it. It's an absurd deduction, and I'd appreciate you quoting specifics from all the editorials that said that. You are committing a fallacy in jumping from my pointing out problems and errors I've observed in reporting and presentation (all of which I haven't even detailed, yet) to saying that I only think the JFP can report these things accurately. Come on. I have one reporter in addition to myself. The sheer technical problem of doing that is a major problem. We can't be everywhere and interview everyone. But we are in a unique position of being asked to help (and give sources and introductions to) just about every damn journalist who passes through the state on this issue in recent years. OK, that's hyperbole; *many* of them. Many have been amazing, ethical, respectful, honest. Others have not. And we have observed much of that, and it has soured me and some of the people I work with toward many of them. And, I need not remind you of the history of the press in Mississippi when it comes to reporting of the movement and its workers No, you need not. Of course I know that; I've written about it over and over again. And of course you know how often the national media ignored and/or got stories wrong about the south, not to mention the rest of the country's race issues, often ignoring their own front yards. There's even a media phrase for it: "Afghanistanism." As for challenging Mississippi media, you must have missed the part where I do that nearly every day of my life. Why would the families of the victims trust the Mississippi press to tell their story accurately and honestly? Based on their track record, perhaps? It's not like journalists appear with no relevant work to their name. Oh actually, that's happened a lot with documentary makers on this topic. Forgot that for a minute. I'm not ridiculing that point; of course, they would have trouble trusting Mississippi journalists, especially if they don't see the evidence that anything has changed here in 40 years in the national media. Its not so surprising that they would prefer to have someone they trust tell their stories. True. But without being specific, I can tell you that there have been national journalists down here saying anything to anybody to get them to talk. In other words, building "trust" all over the place. I am opposed to people saying anything to get people to trust them enough to talk to them, and it's happened in dramatic ways. How is the story of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner any more yours/JFP's or any other Mississippi press than it is the story of the families of the martyrs who chose to have Micki Dickoff tell their stories. Didn't say it was; you seem to be mixing up the point about who was trying to "own" the story.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T19:37:56-06:00
ID
76573
Comment

All have contributed. But here's the point. It is also Mississippians' to tell. What you're not seeing in all my editorials that you are blasting in non-specific ways is that I am encouraging Mississippians to stand up and tell their own stories. I work here every day; I hear the frustrations of people of alll races, not only about our own race problems and communication problems, but about how the media tell such one-dimensional stories about us. I live it and breathe it. My columns—which I make no apologies for—are about calling for *my* readers in Mississippi to have the confidence to go out there and fill in the holes that are missing, to ask the questions that outsiders don't even know to ask, to challenge the lies told, regardless of by whom. Mississippi did not make the progress it has made without outside help or criticism. The strength of Mississippi's Civil Rights Movement was its local leadership, but that strength was given further muscle through outside help. Of course that's true. And if you'd read all my work that you purport to, you would know that I have tried to help educate a new generation of Mississippians about those vital coalitions. I've gone through my entire life worshipping the veterans of the Civil Rights Movement as my biggest heroes because they helped change my hometown and my state for the better, allowing me to be who I was and do what I do in today's Mississippi. And part of what I do is to speak up about unfair depictions and exploitation of Mississippians. That's just not going to change because today's Mississippians need to know they are welcome in this dialogue, too, that it is appropriate, no vital, for us to speak up and talk back about what is said about us. When I moved home in 2001, I really didn't know the level of nuance I was going to meet head-first. I had a very naive, one-dimensional view of both race and the Civil Rights Movement, not to mention its coverage. It was simple for me: hero worship of any effort to expose and repair racism here. I'm not so naive anywhere, and that is in large part due to what I have witnessed up close and personal. Thus, I will repeat myself: Mississippians must stand up and tell our own stories in their full glory, painful shame and twisted complexity. And when outsiders come in and get it wrong, we’ve owe it to each other, and to the world, to set the record straight. Thanks again for the post. This dialogue is long overdue.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T19:38:36-06:00
ID
76574
Comment

I just saw a documentary Web site that calls Mississippi "America's notorious state." I'm curious how everyone reacts to that, especially those who live here. BTW, I've been directly involved with/interviewed for/provided sources for seven documentaries about race in Mississippi that I can think of off the top of my head in the last four years here. Not one of them was done by a filmmaker who lives in Mississippi, three are/were done by Canadians, and most of them did not have significant contacts here when they started. Two of them grew up here but left years ago (and are my favorites of the lot although I haven't seen their films, yet.) That's just context for this conversation. Actually, I could add one other one in there kind of because the people who did it—delightful people—were here for the 40th anniversity of the deaths and sat up on the stage inside Mt. Zion right behind the speaker even as many veterans couldn't get into the sanctuary and were upset outside. (I purposefully stayed out of the church because I thought there were people more deserving to be inside; I was surprised to see northern filmmakers on the stage as I was watching on the TV outside). I like those filmmakers a lot as people, but a film they'd done about Neshoba County did contain several errors.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-03T20:12:48-06:00
ID
76575
Comment

Thanks for taking the time to respond thoughtfully. Excluding some comments about your editorials and the JFP, I admit that I am vocalizing a general concern about Mississippi press in response to your editorial(s) specifically and it probably seems more of a personal attack than it is intended. I will try to respond in more detail tomorrow.

Author
Jared Story
Date
2008-04-03T22:36:59-06:00
ID
76576
Comment

I can't add much to these discussions other than to say that one Canadian filmmaker in particular probably caused a whole lot of problems with various people in Mississippi, in particular people from Jackson Free Press, but with many other people in the state (both black and white) who were trying to help in every way they could think of. This filmmaker (who I will not name) was neither truthful or straightforward and basically cut off the people trying to help in what appeared to be an effort to make it a one-man show. When there were people who live here who were asking questions that could conceivably cause them problems later on (who were volunteering their help), and this filmmaker cut them off without a word, something stinks in Canada. I'm not surprised that Donna is suspicious at this point.

Author
C.W.
Date
2008-04-04T08:03:28-06:00
ID
76577
Comment

That's OK, Jared. This conversation clearly doesn't have two perfect sides. ;-) Bear in mind that I'm not saying that Mississippi media are some panacea, or ever have been. Exactly the opposite I'm not even a fan of the Ledger's selective, fact-challenged civil-rights coverage (and efforts to own the stories and tell the world which ones should and should not be investigated/prosecuted) in recent years, even as much national media just see the surface of what they've done and think it's fabulous. When I saw that Mississippians must tell our own stories, I mean that as literally as you can read it: People in this state need to stand up and tell it all to each other and to the world. That will make it a whole lot harder for media, inside or outside the state, to try to shape those stories into simplistics, dated narratives. Look, it is really, really hard to live and work in my home state and watch the efforts to re-shape the story, not to mention own it, by outside journalists (and activists). Especially when they get parts of it so wrong (see the 90 percent Klansmen quote). There is a remarkable movement going on in Mississippi to deal with our racial past (one that "outsiders" often don't even notice, along their way to bolstering their own narrative or trying to make us the same Mississippi of 1964), and people who believe in that movement must become the watchdogs of stories from here. That is not to censor them in any way; precisely the opposite. That is to ensure that they are told in their full detail. To be honest, I have watched media treat Mississippians like easy, dumb targets for too long now—targets that don't have the savvy to talk back when we're lied to, lied about, shaped, distorted and used for someone else's benefit. We've gotten a ways away from Dickoff at this point—I'm not saying she's doing all those things; again, I haven't screened the film yet because I haven't received it—but I observed an approach in Neshoba County by her and others that I don't like as a Mississippian, and as a journalist. And then seeing the selective quotes used in the Ledger piece about the 90-percent Klansmen made me see red—not because I want to protect white people in my hometown, but because I don't like the truth distorted whatever direction. And use of quotes is a primary way to do that. I'm also curious why they haven't had a public screening of the film in Mississippi while it was in progress, as they've done in other places (as Google shows). Can we not handle it? Mightn't our feedback be useful before a final project is shown? There is something that feels mighty elitist about screening it in NYC, but not here. Oh, and a side comment to journalists who might be coming here to get a piece of the old civil-rights action: You have to be careful how you "investigate" these stories. If you pretend to be a bigot, for instance, to get certain quotes—mightn't those quotes be overblown in order impress you? Then when the trial comes around, should it, mightn't defense attorneys use your methods to try to discredit the evidence? During the Dee-Moore trial, several stupid things happened re the CBC documentary. It aired in the U.S. during the trial. In it, footage showed the brother of one of the victims handing an old FBI description of the killings to one of the Klan witnesses—the one that the feds negotiated with to become the major witness against Seale in return for immunity. Well, due to the remarkably crazy timing of the doc airing, which showed that document exchange, defense attorneys went crazy over the fact that Edwards had seen an old narrative and maybe he was making up his testimony. Fortunately, it didn't work. But it could have. In other words: methods matter. I have many other examples as well, but they can wait. Anyway, I'm going out of town for three needed days away and, hopefully, offline, Jared. I might peek in from time to time, but I look forward to continuing a healthy dialogue about these issues in the future. Thanks, Donna

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-04T08:04:46-06:00
ID
76578
Comment

C.W., just saw your comments. Not saying it's who you mean, but Ridgen built a lot of mistrust here toward filmmakers. To date, I've withheld going into great detail about that whole episode out of respect for Thomas, whom I just loved dearly and admire to this day. But the truth is that the CBC film has major errors in it, and the methods we were asked to participate in (including subterfuge and hidden cameras to get "doorstep" drama) offended us to our core as journalists (and we refused, meaning we were treated as podunks with no courage). Still, we are grateful for Ridgen for what he did do—which was bring us all together for that initial trip down to Franklin County, so that we could write a series story for Mississippians to introduce them to Charles Moore and Henry Dee (and show that James Ford Seale was, indeed, still alive). Those initial stories, in turn, spawned other others (such as about Rev. Briggs). We've given him credit every step of the way in our Dee-Moore work. The worst thing about that film was how it seemed to belittle Mississippi, rather than show any nuance or growth or complexity, including the avid efforts by many (certainly not all) to help and support the prosecutions here. District Attorney Ronnie Harper was the one who first revealed to us—specifically Ridgen and Moore, while Kate and I were driving there to meet them—that Seale was still alive, but in the film more emphasis is put on his Ole Miss credentials rather than sharing the fact that he first revealed vital information. (Now, a good exploration might have been why he hadn't publicly corrected media reports already about it, but that would have strayed from the "buddy story/Mississippi hasn't changed" narrative and made the piece more complicated to do). But, all that said, that media experience is not the only one that we have observed that has turned us off. There seems to be a built-in contempt on the part of some (inter)national media (not all, thankfully) toward Mississippians that spills into their assumptions about Mississippi media. This doesn't help anything, and it's part of what we are willing to challenge. If Mississippi is going to become a place all of our residents can be proud of, and a place where our brightest stay or return to, then part of that has to be a sophisticated approach to media literacy and the willingness to challenge stereotypes, whatever they may be. But not in a defensive, y'all-did-it-too way, but in a detailed, intelligent discussion about why they don't get to play us for fools.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-04T08:24:28-06:00
ID
76579
Comment

Good points, Donna. My experiences with outside media have been very limited; I'm glad I don't have to deal with them as you so often do, because I have a temper that gets away from me at times. I have enough trouble with the inaccuracies and distortions of so many of our in-state media, and even worse, the blind eye they turn to so much of what goes on here. I'm having a discussion with someone on another forum who falls into the category of not having done thorough research, but who doesn't let it stop them from loudly voicing opinions based on inaccurate information; this person has me a little riled. Forgive me if I was a little hotheaded in my comments above. :-) Thanks for your efforts to keep things above-board and outfront.

Author
C.W.
Date
2008-04-06T09:52:46-06:00
ID
76580
Comment

I just saw a documentary Web site that calls Mississippi "America's notorious state." I'm curious how everyone reacts to that, especially those who live here. -ladd I felt the brunt of this attitude last fall at an all white event in Boulder, CO. The event was a concert/meal and my table companion blasted me for living in the South, esp. Mississippi. "Yucccch!" she exclaimed, "How could you live there??!!!" I started, thinking first, jeez, lady, everyone I know in the south (both black and white) possess WAY better manners than you do, as a start. Later I looked around and thought, huh, I don't see any black folks here at this event. Why is it that when I go to shows in JAckson I often see black friends there, yet Mississippi is, in this lady's mind, a disgusting place to be. Maybe we had it the worst in the 50s but a lot changed, now, it's still ugly here for some, yet we are also more mixed than a lot of other towns and cities I've visited.

Author
Izzy
Date
2008-04-07T10:43:27-06:00
ID
76581
Comment

Reflecting more on your editorial and some of the comments of others, I wanted to clarify a few more points. I resent you impugning my ethics without knowing or caring to know the whole story. Maybe you need to do some fact checking yourself! 1) NESHOBA was never screened in NYC. For MLK’s birthday in January, 2006, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) honored Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman and, at their request, we put together clips focusing on them. 2) Jerry Mitchell saw a rough cut and chose the quotes he found useful for his story about bringing indictments against Billy Wayne Posey and others. 3) Richard Posey said what he said. Mississippi has made great strides in race relations since 1964 and that is certainly reflected in our film. However, there are still people today who feel like Posey. That’s just reality. 4) Again, we did not have exclusive contracts with anyone in our film. When Florence said what she said to you, I assume she was just trying to protect me because of two aggressive crews with real budgets from Scotland and Canada who acted like they “owned” the story, to use your words. I offered to clear up the misunderstanding. The families, none of whom live in Mississippi, trusted us to tell their stories and clearly understood our point of view and why we were making the film. 5) And finally, I repeat again, your use of the word “outsiders” sounds as though you believe only people who live in Mississippi own a story about the pursuit of justice and racial healing that should include all Americans. We all have our points of view, forged by our different experiences and histories and no one film can tell all the stories or tell all the truths. -- Micki Dickoff, filmmaker

Author
Micki
Date
2008-04-07T11:45:27-06:00
ID
76582
Comment

Micki, it's great that you're providing more specifics, although none of them really addresses my points head on. Per the exclusivity point, let's just say this is a different angle than we discussed in Neshoba County when you told me you would allow Ms. Mars to speak with me. And frankly, I don't care one way or the other which of the multitude of out-of-state documentary crews making "race" films about Mississippi these days had "exclusives" when it came to documentary crews. I actually get, after dealing myself with documentary filmmakers, how much they can wear you out and why the families of the victims wouldn't want to be bombarded by them. My point was always that sources in this story, and Ms. Mars was not the only one, believed that you had exclusives with them that would mean they could not talk to any other media, including local. And you said nothing to deny the "exclusivity" notion when I confronted you with it there; you just me told you would allow her to talk to me. And, no, I didn't get the feeling at all that Ms. Mars was trying to "protect" you against a print journalist from Neshoba County. In fact, the only time I heard your name come up during the trial is when people were talking about the intense competition between doc crews and how you had managed to build a lot of trust among a lot of the players. Ms. Mars really seemed to believe, as did others, that you had an exclusive agreement with her (I didn't ask if it was written) and other sources to speak to no other journalists. This "exclusivity," whatever form it took, was a source of much talk around town and in the media room, as was the situation with the filmmakers there in general. It was almost hilarious to watch the filmmakers glaring at each other and jockeying for position like at the "alternative" commemoration near Mount Zion. I've worked in NYC media, and I haven't seen anything quite like it, I must say. And this isn't even getting into the great lengths filmmakers making were going in order to build trust among the various sides. I apologize if I got the NYC screening information wrong. What I saw gave me that impression. The question still remains of why Mitchell has seen a rough cut to write about, and it hasn't been shown in Mississippi? What good does that do? Have other people in the film seen the rough cut as well? Regardless, though, the issue I raised about that had to do with that quote about 90 percent of Neshoba Countians being in the Klan. Does the version of the film Jerry saw explain that that was hyperbole? Part of my point of writing about this is to put pressure on "outsider" filmmakers, as well as "insiders," to tell these stories correctly, without resorting to false hyperbole, as we see over and over and over again. It is not to impugn your character; I have just as much right to discuss what I and my team observed—and my reaction to it—as you and your team do. 5) And finally, I repeat again, your use of the word “outsiders” sounds as though you believe only people who live in Mississippi own a story about the pursuit of justice and racial healing that should include all Americans. Sorry, this is pure B.S. If you really believe that at this point after everything I have written on this topic to explain the context of my comments, I am more worried than ever about your ability to tell this story about Mississippi well. With due respect, you need to put your defensiveness aside and go back and really read my comments. It strikes me that your very reaction here indicates that you don't think anyone here might have something to say on this topic that you don't agree with or might not have thought of. In other words, you're making my point. Micki, *no one* owns the story of race in Mississippi, and quite frankly few people get it right. A lot of *that* fault falls to Mississippians who refuse to stand up and tell our stories to the world, to media and each other in a brutally honest fashion. Likewise, Mississippians of all races have learned to throw up our hands at all the distortions, half-truths and agenda-driven versions that get told on our behalf.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-07T16:40:26-06:00
ID
76583
Comment

All we can do is to stand up and start telling themselves ourselves, and call people out when they try to own the story, or distort it in some way whichever direction that goes. Does that mean that any one of us has or knows or gets to tell the *whole* story? Do people in Mississippians have more of a "right" to it? Hell, no. It's like a jigsaw puzzle and the more pieces put in place by the more Mississippians and knowledgeable "outsiders," the more true the story will be. And if you don't mind, or even if you do, I will continue to call for people in my state to keep telling our stories in as honest and straightforward a way as possible and not let "outsiders" (or "insiders") own or distort the stories. I don't expect that to please all people either in, or outside the state. I have taken hits for doing that, and been "impugned" in every way possible for trying to do that. But it's important to me. Our state for too long has been the most "notorious state"—and a big reason for that has been the distorted media coverage and the fact that too many people outside Mississippi (and inside) do not want to see us do the right thing because it doesn't fit the narrative. This nut does crack from within.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-07T16:40:41-06:00
ID
76584
Comment

Micki, I'm also curious about another thing: Were members of the Killen and Posey families aware of your close friendship with the victims' families when they gave you the exculpatory information?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-07T16:50:35-06:00
ID
76585
Comment

Florence was trying to “protect” me, whether you think so or not, because she understood the disadvantage we had in terms of funding. During the trial, Florence did interviews with several print journalists. I really don’t know why she didn’t do an interview with you. I never talked with her about it. Remember, we had been filming for more than a year before the trial began and developed many close relationships during that period of time. As is my style over the past 30 years of making socially conscious films, I establish trust between me and my subjects, allowing people to talk from their hearts, whether it’s a mother who lost her child to AIDS, to execution or to murder. Yes, I did build a lot of trust with people in our film, which I hope I earned. You make that sound like a negative. The Killen family knew we were talking with many people involved with this story, including the victims’ families. There are a lot of pieces to this very complex puzzle of murder in Mississippi, what happened, how it happened, why it happened and the aftermath. The film is a sum of all its parts, just like Neshoba County. By the way, was the Killen family aware that your photographer was working for you and those photographs would appear on the front page of the Jackson Free Press? Now you and I both know the answer to that. There have been many films over the years about these tragic murders. And there are still many more stories to tell. Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were not the only people murdered in Mississippi and nothing done about it. I don’t know where you get the idea that I think no one else has anything to say on the topic. I hope filmmakers from Mississippi and from other places continue to make films that promote equality, healing and racial reconciliation, until we don’t have to make these films anymore. I encourage you to call for citizens of Mississippi to tell their stories in an honest and straightforward way, including you. I also don’t expect to please everybody. Sometimes the truth hurts, but telling the truth is the only way to make change. Of course, there will always be debate exactly what the truth is since “truth” is different for different people.

Author
Micki
Date
2008-04-08T09:58:32-06:00
ID
131255
Comment

I just ran across this and saw the comment by Micki Dickoff about photographer Kate Medley, which is patently false in its implication. Kate and I actually met the day before the trial and started working together at the beginning of the trial on the Killen case after she had started photographing him in his home two weeks earlier. Kate made a point of talking to him before selling photographs taken there to media outlets, including but not limited to the JFP. After the Killen trial, Kate traveled and worked directly with me on other civil-rights cold-case stories, but as a freelancer. She was part of the JFP-CBC team that met up with Thomas Moore in Franklin County a couple weeks later the day before we learned that Seale was still alive. She also sold photos in the Killen and Dee-Moore cases, etc., to the AP, New York Times and many others, in addition to the JFP. She and I have faced the ethical gauntlet a number of times together at this point, including during the initial Dee-Moore trip when we had to fall on our ethical sword, refusing to wear hidden cameras and engage in subterfuge we were asked to do to help the filmmaker get footage. Otherwise, Micki, I am telling the stories I see in honest and straightforward ways, even when it doesn't make non-Mississippi or Mississippi journalists look as good as they'd like. And a big part of "the story" over the years has been what journalists, here and elsewhere, have chosen to cover and not to cover, how they've chosen to cover it, and why. I've learned a lot about that in recent years; I was pretty naive until I moved back and dove into this arena and saw what I have seen up close and personal. I'm with you that the truth hurts. And the truth can make it harder to get certain people to talk to you. But I'm still all about telling it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-06-29T17:26:28-06:00

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