In partnership with the Eccles Centre on American Studies and Studio Canal, the U.S. Embassy in London was delighted to present a sneak peak screening and discussion last week of the new movie Free State of Jones, prior to its general UK release on September 30, 2016. The event brought together a mix of students, historians and other professionals from the U.S. and UK and highlighted the special relationship between the two countries.
The period American movie explores the Civil War era, a time in history in which the U.S. was exceptionally divided, as well as the more progressive Reconstruction Era that immediately followed.
According to event organizer Jerica Ward, this was “a time in history when the ideas of leadership, justice and equality were challenged, but the few who fought back and won, forever changed history.” She encouraged those in attendance to come away from the event with renewed hope and an increased commitment to the values of leadership, justice and equality.
Gary Gerstle, professor at Cambridge University also attended the event. Excited to be at the screening, he said he was curious about the film and believed it would challenge viewers to contemplate the historical context of race relations in America. He also mentioned that while he knew a lot about American history, he had never heard of the main character, Newton Knight, whose story piqued his interest in learning more about the era. Knight’s story is one of a Southern man who believed in equality long before his compatriots shared those beliefs. A Mississippi native, he fought for the Confederate forces during the war until he tired of fighting “a rich man’s war” and formed his own company to rebel against those he once fought alongside.
The event also afforded attendees the opportunity to mingle and discuss the film. Dr. Lydia Plath, a senior lecturer at Cantebury Christ Church University, studies how slavery has been represented in American films. She agrees that Free State of Jones is a historically accurate depiction of certain events in and around the Civil War, but she believes that if this were the only film someone saw about the Civil War they may have a flawed impression of it because the film only speaks to one specific case from the time period, rather than giving a full view into the lives of people living in this time.
Adam Scheuer, a Young Leaders UK member who currently works at the London Stock Exchange, said that while he had never studied this time period, he found it fascinating and looked forward to enhancing his knowledge about it through Free State of Jones. Further, he noted how it was nice to be in a room filled with Americans and Britons who had come together to experience this film.
“It’s nice to feel connected with the U.S. through its cultural output,” said Scheuer.
Events like this help strengthen the close ties our two countries already share, and Ms. Ward summed it up perfectly: “The US Embassy is always a supporter of artistic expression [as a way] to build upon our special relationship and a mutual understanding of our history.”