Documentary highlights both sides of state flag argument

Posted on Oct 27 2017 - 8:01am by Logan Williamson

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics featured the premiere and discussion of a new documentary film titled “Flag Flap Over Mississippi.” This film is an independent venture by award-winning filmmaker Rex Jones and was produced by The Southern Documentary Project, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

Rex Jones said he is a “one-man band” behind the film, shouldering the entire filmmaking process from research to camerawork. His film studies the pressures and conflicts surrounding the divisive Mississippi state flag and includes interviews with Mississippians who represent a range of opinions on the meaning of the state’s official banner, which displays the Confederate battle emblem.

He said he tried to format this film as a conversation between people who wouldn’t normally talk to one another.

“When I first conceived of the film, it struck me that the discourse around the state flag is usually so acrimonious that it prevents any real understanding of differing positions,” he said. 

Jones said he can’t guarantee that audiences will like the film, but he promises that all members will hear something they don’t agree with, and that’s OK.

“Hearing — or more appropriately, listening — is an essential part of real communication,” he said. 

Becca Walton, the associate director for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, plans events like Wednesday’s film screening.

“The film is very timely with the current debate about Confederate symbols in connection to white supremacist violence,” she said. 

“Flag Flap Over Mississippi” explores themes and standpoints of the flag within the context of the existing political atmosphere.

“In the current political climate, we’re pleased to have a forum for thoughtful, reasonable discussion,” Walton said. “It is important that we understand the historical context of the state legislature’s selection of the flag in 1894 and then the meanings attached to the flag over the last century and now.”

Susie Penman, a former Ole Miss student and a vocal opponent of the flag, said she liked how the film represented both sides. 

“I liked the dialogue in the movie from people of opposing viewpoints. I don’t often engage with pro-state flag people, so it was good for me to listen to the opposite side.”

Following the film screening, a discussion was moderated by Southern studies visiting professor W. Ralph Eubanks with two people who appear in the film, Starke Miller, a local Civil War historian, and Carlos Moore, an attorney and judge who is suing the state of Mississippi on grounds that the flag is harmful and destructive. The discussion comprised of social, cultural, economic, political and legal factors that are associated with the flag.

 “(The Confederate battle emblem) was put on the state flag to remember the courage and valor of the men who fought under that flag and remember what they denoted ‘The Second American Revolution,'” Starke Miller, an advocate of the flag, said. “It was never a government flag or the Confederate states’ government flag. It was the flag of the fighting men.”

“As someone who is trained in law, I know about fundamental rights as Americans and that they are not subject to a vote,” Judge Moore, an adversary of the flag, said. “I also know, having studied constitutional law, anything that is done by a state actor that has a discriminatory intent and has a disparate impact is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.”

Eubanks said the discussion is of public interest because the debate was part of the cultural transition of the American South. He said that Mississippi has struggled in the past to move toward a new future.

“This discussion has its eyes tilted toward a new future.”

Christina Huff, a former Ole Miss student, objects to the flag.

“Personally, I’m for taking down the flag, but I think it’s important that they had two sides of the story so the audience can then make a decision for themselves rather than someone forcing an opinion on people,” she said. 

There are plans in the works to screen the film statewide, starting with Millsaps College on Nov. 6, and continuing with south Mississippi and the Delta in the new year. Mississippi Public Broadcasting is scheduled to broadcast the film in January.