Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Critical Studies in Media Communication 26:1 (March 2009), pp. 54–79.

doi: 10.1080/15295030802684059


Copyright © 2009 National Communication Association; published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


The 1988 film Mississippi Burning drew extensive criticism for its misleading portrayal of the FBI’s investigation of three murdered civil rights activists in 1964. As critics noted, the film ignored the role of Black activists who struggled for racial justice even as it graphically depicted the violence that activists and other Blacks faced during the civil rights era. This movie’s selective depiction of events surrounding the activists’ deaths constituted the film as a site of cinematic amnesia, a form of public remembrance that provokes controversy over how events ought to be remembered. An analysis of the film and its ensuing controversy illustrates how provocatively forgetful texts can simultaneously prompt media attention to political activism and deflect attention from contemporary racial injustice.