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Mississippi Burning (1988)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery  |  27 January 1989 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 61,666 users   Metascore: 65/100
Reviews: 171 user | 46 critic | 11 from

Two FBI agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.



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Title: Mississippi Burning (1988)

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 18 wins & 22 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. Pell
Sheriff Ray Stuckey
Lester Cowens
Badja Djola ...
Agent Monk
Agent Bird
Thomas B. Mason ...
Judge (as Tom Mason)
Rick Zieff ...


Two FBI agents investigating the murder of civil rights workers during the 60s seek to breach the conspiracy of silence in a small Southern town where segregation divides black and white. The younger agent trained in FBI school runs up against the small town ways of his former Sheriff partner. Written by Keith Loh <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


1964. When America was at war with itself.


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

27 January 1989 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Three Lives for Mississippi  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$15,000,000 (estimated)


$34,603,943 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Director Alan Parker and his crew whipped up batches of what they called OMD - Old Man's Dick. This ugly mix of purple, yellow and brown was painted on every piece of set - every chair, every table top, every prop. They made up a dye and dipped costumes into it - everyone's from the FBI agents, the white supremacists and the black civil rights campaigners who are murdered at the start.

Stephen Tobolowsky, the actor who played white supremacist Clayton Townley saw the process first hand, then went to the film's premiere and wondered why the stuff wasn't showing up on screen.

Parker ambushed Tobolowsky afterwards and asked him 'what did you see?'. Tobolowsky said he hadn't seen OMD. 'I didn't ask you what you didn't see, I asked you what you saw'. Tobolowsky suddenly realized his eyes were drawn to the black actor's skin. "Alan's face turned a lovely red and he said 'right'," Tobolowsky said.

The only thing OMD didn't touch was human skin. You watch the film and the OMD is invisible but it gives everything except human skin a dull sameness that makes your eyes look elsewhere - to human skin, the most important visual in a film about racism. See more »


When the agents visit deputy Pell's house in the evening, he is watching baseball on television. In 1964, only afternoon games were televised on Saturday. See more »


[first lines]
Driver: Uh, oh.
Passenger: What is it?
Passenger: [seeing the car behind them] What do they want?
Driver: I don't know... just pass me... pass me...
Driver: [trying to identify the following car] Is it a cop?
Passenger: I can't see.
[they are hit from behind]
Driver: What the fuck are these jokers playin' at?
Rear passenger: Oh, they ain't playin', you better believe it.
See more »


Referenced in Fletch Lives (1989) See more »


Take My Hand Precious Lord
Words and Music by Thomas A. Dorsey
Performed by Mahalia Jackson
Courtesy of CBS Records
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

The film succeeds by being gripping, emotional, and disturbing…

Mississippi Burning is set in 1964 when three civil rights activists are murdered in a small town by the Ku Klux Klan… Two of them were white and one of them black…

Based on actual events in Philadelphia, the screenplay centers chiefly on the hostility relationship between the two FBI agents (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) sent down to the small Mississippi town to seek information about the vanishing of the three victims… Immediately upon their arrival, they are greeted with hostility by the local law enforcement and the town in general…

Dafoe's Ward— in charge of the case—comes off as the embodiment of everything those men in the south dislike about the "Yankees" who are coming down there commanding them how to act…

Anderson(Hackman), who was once a Mississippi officer himself, has a special feel for how to settle things with Southerners… He uses his charm to win the confidence of the friendly wife of a Klansman deputy, whom he suspects holds the key to unravel the details of the case…

The scenes between McDormand and Hackman are the best of the film… They dramatize how quickly two lonely people can match...

The film succeeds by being gripping, emotional, and disturbing… Alan parker graphically explores the hatred, motivations and mentality that were once flaming through the American society in the 60's.

29 of 35 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Did Pell Deserve The Beating In The Barbershop? matoschi
I Do Not Think Pell Deserved The Beating In The Barbershop, Agree? matoschi
The South nowadays ravviann
best line in the film... HapppinessAZ
Wake up, people! sassysweethart64
Anderson and Mrs. Pell sarajasmine8
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