Free State of Jones is the first major film to highlight Unionism in the Confederacy. This film also provides a broad overview of non-elite Southerners’ experiences of the Civil War. While Unionist sympathizers were a minority in the Confederacy, their story is an essential part of the study of the Civil War that has not received attention in popular culture. This movie covers the Civil War and its impacts with three distinct storylines: the war itself; Reconstruction; and, through a series of time jumps, the Jim Crow era.
Overall, the film was well-liked by historians, who praised its rejection of the Lost Cause narratives advanced by most earlier Civil War films. Free State of Jones also reflects an updated understanding of the Reconstruction era, exposing the challenges facing the postwar South by offering a more realistic interpretation of slavery and post-war racism.
While critics found much to praise in the movie, some found it to be more effective as a history lesson than as entertainment. Others objected to the slow-moving storyline and to the time jumps that interfered with smooth plot development. As a result, Free State of Jones succeeds more as an expansion of the historical narrative than as a movie.
Victoria Bynum, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War,(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
James Bagget, The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004).
Victoria Bynum, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).
Susannah Ural,“An Interview with Victoria Bynum on the Free State of Jones” Southern Quarterly 54, no. 2 (Winter 2017): 94-103.
William Harris,“The Southern Unionist Critique of the Civil War” Southern History 31, no.1 (March 1985): 39-56.
Richard Grant,“The True Story of the Free State of Jones,’” Smithsonian Magazine, March 2016.
Patrick Rael,“Right and Wrong in the ‘Free State of Jones’: Making Sense of the Civil War Film Tradition,” Journal of the Civil War Era, July 1, 2016.
Victoria Bynum, “Renegade South: Histories of Renegade Southerners” (blog).
Godfrey Cheshire,“Free State of Jones Movie Review,” Roger Ebert, June 24, 2016.
A. O. Scott,“Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones,’” New York Times, June 23, 2016.
Richard Brody,“The Historical Imagination and ‘Free State of Jones'” The New Yorker, June 23, 2016.
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