Matthew McConaughey’s latest movie Free State of Jones sets out to explore a largely unknown chapter of history from the Civil War. Directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, the first Hunger Games, Pleasantville), Free State of Jones aims to blow away several longstanding myths surrounding the Civil War era and was made with the help of several leading experts on the subject, according to a movie review in the New York Times.
Check out the trailer for Free State of Jones below.
Perhaps predictably, Matthew McConaughey’s latest movie starts off with a quintessential battlefield scene, taking the viewer on a journey of immersive combat and explosive action that movie goers expect to see in any film about the Civil War. The scene is literally bleeding with sentiments about the tragedy of both sides and the valor of the soldiers, but soon afterwards Free State of Jones branches off in a fresh direction, instilling a renewed sense of clarity about the entire conflict and its aftermath.
Experts and their works that were consulted for the movie and studied by Matthew McConaughey, along with the rest of the movie’s cast members, include “Reconstruction” by Eric Foner of Columbia University and Martha Hodes of New York University, who wrote a prizewinning study of interracial sexuality in the 19th century South.
“The result is a riveting visual history lesson, whose occasional didacticism is integral to its power,” wrote the New York Times.
In the movie, Matthew McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a real life Mississippi farmer, soldier and southern unionist who rebelled against the Confederate Army leading a ragtag militia of fellow deserters and renegade slaves. When a new law declared that any man who owns 20 slaves or more was exempt from military service, it bolstered Knight’s claim that the Civil War was nothing but poor men “fighting a rich man’s war.” After his possessions are seized and his wife – played by Keri Russell – leaves him, Newt takes to the swamps and begins laying the groundwork for a revolution that will ultimately declare Jones County a free state, thereby releasing its citizens of their allegiance to either Northern or Southern ideals.
“I didn’t know there was this kind of resistance within the Confederacy,” Ross recalled in an interview with The News Journal. “There’s so much that’s been rewritten or revised in this period of American history so I had to almost know what I didn’t know.”
Matthew McConaughey has starred in a variety of other fact-based movies, including Amistad, The Newton Boys, We are Marshall, Bernie, and The Dallas Buyer’s Club, which landed the actor an Oscar for Best Actor. Free State of Jones is similar in that the movie revolves around a central fascinating character. Asked what he thinks of Newton Knight as a person, McConaughey is quick to share his praise. “What a man! Talk about having a real, pure handle and understanding of humanity,” stated Matthew McConaughey about the new movie.
“The guy had a very simple moral code… He would see a wrong, and he had no way to ignore it. That’s a very simple thing, but to be able to do that for 94 years? He was fighting alongside poor white farmers and runaway African-American slaves, Maroons, and not hiding out but saying, ‘Let’s rebel. Let’s take the fight to them. Let’s pay offense here.'”
In fact, as the movie Free State of Jones depicts, Knight and his band of like-minded farmers and slaves — including actors Mahershala Ali as Moses and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Rachel — were often quite successful in fighting the Southerners. In 1864, they took over Jones County and seceded from the Confederacy, raising a United States flag over the courthouse in downtown Ellisville, Mississippi. After the conflict ended, Knight married Rachel – a former slave – and had five children with her.
“He lived in an inter-racial community,” shared Matthew McConaughey about the movie’s main character. “He marched with the freed men to vote. Then the Klan came out. A lot of things went back to how they were before the Civil War, but he continued to fight.”
[Image via Bluegrass Films]