Ever since I read a New York Times story about the enduring tradition of segregated proms at some Southern high schools, I've been curious to see the documentary Prom Night in Mississippi. The film, which premieres on HBO tonight, tells the story of Charleston, Mississippi, which held its first integrated prom in 2008 with the urging (and funding) of Morgan Freeman.
Sounds uplifting . . . but there's more to the story. Though the prom is embraced by both the school administration and the students themselves, some parents organize a separate "whites only" prom and ban their children from attending the integrated dance. The filmmakers' cameras were forbidden from the "whites only" dance, too — so those parts of the story are told through graphic novel-style segments based on the memories of students who did attend.
But despite the conflict, says HBO, "When prom night arrives, the event is a huge success, with live soul and rap music, a packed dance floor and a pre-recorded appearance on a big screen by Freeman, who cannot attend in person due to a prior acting commitment. There is a sense that history is being made, and that the students have somehow grown from being a part of the process." Did that happen? A follow-up, Prom Night in Mississippi: One Year Later, is available OnDemand and revisits the school this Spring, telling the story of the second integrated prom — held alongside another "whites only" dance.
To check out a preview for this film, just read more.