A profound and impactful movie, the Netflix original, Mudbound, is making its way through the awards circuit and there is no question as to why it is there. Inspired by the novel written by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound follows the stories of two families, the McAllans, who are struggling to adjust to life on a farm after they move from their cushy, suburban neighborhood and the Jacksons, their sharecroppers who dream of owning their own land someday. Two sons from the family, Jamie from the McAllans and Ronsel from the Jacksons, both go to serve in World War II and when they come back changed by their experiences they develop a close friendship, one that leads to disastrous consequences in this small-minded, racism plagued town.
This may seem like a story you have heard of before, and it’s true that tension between White and African-American families in the South is a common trope for all kinds of media, but Mudbound never once feels like a recreation of something before it. The story is told through six different points of view: Laura, the matriarch of the McAllans, Henry, her husband, Jamie, her brother-in-law, Hap, the head of the Jackson family, Florence, his wife, and Ronsel, their eldest son. The narrative flows easily between all six voices, creating unique lenses in which we get to witness the events of the story.
The women of this movie are particular standouts to me, specifically Mary J. Blige, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. I knew she was nominated before seeing the movie, so I already had high expectations. Her performance as Florence, a strong but silent woman whose main purpose is to care and provide for her family in any and all ways, is breathtaking. Her performance is incredibly minimalist, played mostly by the way she carries herself and delivers her few lines with confidence not too often given to women in her type of situation. As they say in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the man may be the head, but the woman is the neck—she turns the head any way she wants. Florence and her husband have an unspoken connection with one another and their devotion to each other nearly pours off the screen. Blige is, quite honestly, a vision in this film and it makes me question why she did not attempt to get more into acting sooner.
Courtesy: Entertainment Weekly
The incredible performances are a highlight of Mudbound, but the thing that I carried with me after watching and for hours afterward was the commentary it so brashly makes about racism back in the 1940s. These two families are settled deep in the Mississippi Delta where the KKK is prevalent and rules such as African-Americans not being able to walk through front doors of shops were strictly enforced. This film doesn’t hold one punch as audience members are shown various types of racist behavior from weird looks to using the N-word to kidnapping, mutilation, and near murder. There were several times I wanted to hurl something at the screen as Henry’s and Jamie’s despicable Pappy spouted ignorant, racist slurs as simply as if he were talking about the weather, and there were several times I had to look away from the screen as a KKK demonstration went on right in front of me. You would have to have been asleep while watching this to not have been impacted by the blatant cruelty and unfairness you witness the Jacksons face with few other options but to stand there and take it.
There is a small glimmer of light in this relatively dark story and that comes in the package of Ronsel and Jamie’s friendship. Both young men served overseas during World War II, returning as war heroes and as damaged souls. The two find solace in each other, the only ones on the farm who can relate to what they had gone through. Jamie very clearly grew up in a racist household and possibly held some racist ideas of his own at the start of the film. To get to see his journey of realization and acceptance is inspiring to see, and his friendship with Ronsel is genuinely fun to watch unfold.
Courtesy: Common Sense Media
A story of two families living lives both so incredibly different but so unarguably the same is a captivating narrative in which racism, war, and friendship are highlighted. Mudbound most definitely ranks as one of the more powerful movies I have seen recently and is definitely one of the best I have seen recently. If you have not watched it yet on Netflix, take two hours out of your day to do so. You will not regret it.