Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story


Racism, rebellion, and filmmaking ethics intertwine in Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story, a documentary by Raymond De Felitta that focuses on a 1965 NBC News piece by De Felitta’s father, Frank, about Booker Wright, a waiter and shop owner in Greenwood, Mississippi. In that 47-year-old film, the good-natured Wright admitted to his—and, by extension, all African Americans’—use of a subservient smile to mask anger and hurt at segregation, a candid confession that further fanned the flames of racial tensions in KKK-saturated Greenwood and led to Wright losing his job, having his establishment trashed, suffering a severe beating, and, three years later, being shot to death. Director De Felitta’s excessive use of mournful piano and expressionistic visuals (a grasshopper trapped in a jar, headlights peering through the dark) interferes with his otherwise graceful black-and-white aesthetics, which place a premium on not only archival clips and photos, but also on past and present close-ups of Mississippi men and women. Frank De Felitta’s guilt over having aired the footage is moving, yet it’s ultimately countered by this piercing film’s stance—promoted by the subject’s proud children and grandchildren—that Wright’s statements, far from a slip of the tongue, were an intentional act of courageous defiance.