Published on November 5th, 2013 | by Jon Rutledge0
The Last White Knight Review
Movie Review: The Last White Knight (2013)
Running Time: 78 mins
Director: Paul Saltzman
Writers: Paul Saltzman
Cast: Delay de la Beckwith, Jim Ingram, Donna Ladd, Charles Evers, Harry Belafonte
Plot: A story of reconciliation and civil rights history as director Paul Saltzman revisits Greenwood, Mississippi and meets with a member of the Ku Klux Klan who assaulted him in 1965.
Imagine going out of your way, leaving your family and country to make a difference and to help people take a stand. Now imagine once you get there you get attacked because of what you stand for. What would you think about the people who attacked you? Would you be curious about the motivations behind the actions? Paul Saltzman was that person. He was attacked by members of the Klan in Greenwood, Mississippi while helping disadvantaged sharecroppers register to vote.
In 1965, Paul, a volunteer with the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee was attacked on the Greenwood courthouse steps.. In 2007, he went looking for the person who attacked him to see if there could be some reconciliation. His search started a 5 year correspondence with his attacker (Byron de la Beckwith, Jr.) Their conversations lead to this wonderful documentary.
Having an opportunity to go back to the person who attacked you and open a dialog is intriguing but what he learns about the mindset of people then and now is quite revealing. After 40 years, Paul and Byron meet and have a friendly conversation about the times they lived in then and how things have changed.
Paul does a spectacular job of presenting the facts without his personal bias and lets the subjects represent themselves
The topic of this film is controversial. People who watch this will have to keep an open mind to what the film presents about its subjects. Talking openly about the views of the different sides of people who lived during that time is a great way to open up and look at that time period in Mississippi’s history from both sides without the passions of the participants over powering the film.
Paul does a spectacular job of presenting the facts without his personal bias and lets the subjects represent themselves. Lots of documentarians have a very strong belief structure that overpowers the documentary. This one is not preachy and gives us a well captured and clear view of that part of American history.
Byron’s father was convicted in the 1963 killing of NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers. His killer was put on trial twice in the 60’s but not convicted until 1994. This gives us a good snapshot of how people have changed and we can track through time when things started to change. There have been a lot of positive changes as a society. There was a time in that city’s past that terrorism was encouraged because the people in power were never going to punish the perpetrators.
Byron is a product of that time and still embraces his beliefs about black people. He’s a paradox because he says that he respects Evers he respects his strength and his conviction but does not condone him or his actions. His attitude was “he got what he deserved.” He had a nanny that was black and has a lot of respect for her to her face but still believes that she is sub-species of man.
From a personal standpoint this documentary saddens me because there are interviews with modern KKK members in their 30’s. I always thought that once the old raciest bigots died off we would be free of this kind of thinking, but they are passing on their beliefs to their children. One bright spot the filmmaker does show some local girls playing together and they make it a point to express they don’t feel the way their parents do. So we have some hope for the future.
As far as we have come this film shows us that we have a lot of work to go before we are considered free of racism. One subject of the movie is Morgan Freeman who resides in Mississippi. He states that the best way to get past racism is to stop talking about it. In a different interview he says “Black history is American history”. His history is my history, our history. American History.
Summary: The Last White Knight is a documentary that allows you to see a snapshot of american history without the heavy handedness of a sermon. Let the subject speak for its self.