Another great feel-good American documentary with a story that is inspiring and uplifting but also sad and disturbing. In the small town of Charleston, Mississippi a few hundred kids have attended the local high school together since it was desegregated in the 1970s. But a segregated prom has persisted even though it’s not what most of the kids want. Actor Morgan Freeman calls this town home and he made an offer to the school to sponsor an integrated prom; his offer wasn’t accepted until 2008, perhaps because he showed up with a film crew (with Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman at the helm).
In some ways the project is unsuccessful. Yes, most of the members of the senior class share a party together, given this chance to socialize and see that nothing “dangerous” will happen (this seems to be the main concern of staff and parents – like what dangerous thing is going to happen?). But a small group of parents organize their own white prom, for white kids only, even the ones they don’t particularly like. One boy talks from behind a screen, telling the camera that his parents will disown him if they know he does not support their racism and is perfectly comfortable with both white and black classmates. Jessica (kind of the star of the show) describes transcending her abusive home situation where her stepfather threatened to beat her if she had black friends. The sweetest characters are Heather and Jeremy, the school’s only interracial couple, who are inseparable but do not date in public because they do not have the support of the town. Prom Night celebrates the hope and energy of young people but also focuses on the complex nature of race relations in the rural South to this day.