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In 1998, three white men in the small town of Jasper, Texas, chained a black man to the back of their pickup truck and dragged him to his death. This film relates that story and how it affected all of the residents of the town, both black and white. Written by
Texas is a big, big state. There is plenty of room for racism to exist in any places at once. In 1998, there were two big incidents that made national headlines.
Near the Louisiana border, in Jasper, Texas. James Byrd was being drug to his death by three white men out for a good time. 600 miles away, near the New Mexico border, in Tulia, Texas, the sheriff hired Tome Coleman to combat his town's perceived drug problem. As the trials went on in Jasper, a pre-dawn raid rounded up 46 black men in Tulia and they were sentenced to 750 years in prison on trumped-up charges.
We will have to wait until Halle Berry has her baby to see the completion of Tulia, but we can watch the crimes in Jasper, now.
Louis Gossett Jr. plays the Mayor of Jasper, and Jon Voight is the Sheriff. They have to deal with the impact of the crime and the trial on a town of 8,000. They are not only ill prepared to investigate such a heinous murder, but they have to deal with the Black Panthers, who arrive to march armed (legal in Texas), and the KKK. I cannot think of two actors who were better suited for the parts, and could have played them better.
The overall message of the film is that these three men were not representative of the town - that blacks and whites got along. The truth was laid bare during the trial. They got along because the black citizens did not make waves. There was an undercurrent of racism throughout the community and it took an incident like this to get the town to look at it.
It is a shame that it took a death to make things better, but James Byrd did have what is hopefully a lasting legacy on the town.
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