Young man on prom night
Photo: Catherine Farquharson/Paul Saltzman
Though it may seem hard to believe, as recently as two years ago, the high school students of Charleston, Mississippi (population 2,198), still attended segregated proms—one for black pupils, one for white, each privately planned and funded by their parents. "It is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of," says the actor Morgan Freeman when he returns to his childhood hometown to address the local students in Prom Night in Mississippi (premiering this month on HBO). In Paul Saltzman's engaging documentary, Freeman goes to Charleston to strike a deal: If the kids come together to organize an integrated prom, the Oscar winner will foot the bill (no budget limit). As the film shows, this breakthrough moment sparks many different reactions in Charleston: lots of joy, a bit of "What took us so long?", some wariness (we meet an interracial teen couple who avoid even holding hands at school), and a blast of ugly resistance (a few parents organize their own all-white prom in protest). Prom Night in Mississippi presents a troubling but cautiously optimistic portrait of a town trying to heal an age-old racial divide, starting with one very complicated party.

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