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'Ghosts' sheds light on living history

January 8, 1997
Web posted at: 9:30 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist

NEW YORK (CNN) -- In 1963, civil rights activist Medgar Evers was gunned down in front of his Mississippi home. Even though authorities were certain who murdered him, the killer remained free for more than 30 years.

"Ghosts of Mississippi" is director Rob Reiner's account of a courageous prosecutor's efforts to finally bring that man -- Byron Dela Beckwith, convicted in 1994 -- to justice

Whoopi Goldberg portrays Evers' wife, Myrlie, who served as a consultant on the film. Goldberg holds high Evers' tragic but pivotal role in the struggle for equal rights.

"His death was instrumental and focused attention on the South as to what was going on down there," said Goldberg. "And from this horrible assassination came an understanding via the television what was going on."

Alec Baldwin plays the crusading assistant district attorney, Bobby DeLaughter, who reopened the case nearly 30 years after two previous trials had let Beckwith off the hook.

Drive for justice

Baldwin describes DeLaughter's driving need to offer justice to Myrlie Evers and her family, regardless of the case's unpopularity in Mississippi.

"Even those who thought (Beckwith) was guilty said, 'Yeah, he's guilty. So what?' And Bob felt it depends on who you're talking to how important it is," said Baldwin. "If you're Myrlie Evers and the Evers family, it's very important."

Both Baldwin and Goldberg met with the real-life people they play in the movie. But James Woods, who plays Beckwith, refused to go face-to-face with Medgar Evers' murderer.

"I felt I could absolutely not meet this man who shot someone in the back because of the color of their skin," said Woods, adding that he also found Beckwith's political views repugnant.

White perspective

Reiner always wanted to do a film on race relations, but the director felt reluctant to address the subject from a black perspective.

"Being a white person, I felt I would come under a tremendous amount of criticism," said Reiner, who decided to focus on DeLaughter and his efforts to resolve the long, painful case.

Some have criticized the strategy, but if Myrlie Evers is any judge, Reiner can rest easy that he got it right.

"Historically, it is almost correct," she said. "I would just like to see it expanded at some point in time."


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