Unfortunately messages like this need to be a part of blockbuster superhero films, as an emotional drama simply doesn’t appeal to the masses. Sad, but the reality we live in. Mudbound starts slow but it is soon evident that the film has a powerful theme without seeming preachy in any sense. The cyclical nature also puts a new spin on the concept of showing a later or last scene being shown at the beginning of the film, and it is heartbreaking.
1941: Pearl Harbour is attacked. One brother from a white family of farmers is called to service, as is one of their black… assistant. This is an opportunity to share common ground as both families have a family member fighting for their country.
However, the two families most certainly do not share common lives. Despite the year, the black family are still slaves. The label may be different, and they may be getting paid a pittance, but they serve their white masters without fail, to the point of being scared to not act nice to a white person for fear of retaliation from older folk who are still holding onto their racist beliefs: one of these includes one of the farmer’s father.
While slow paced and poorly edited, this becomes a powerful film as despite their classes, the commonalities between members of the two families mount up. Not only is there a son of each family at war, many other events occur that on the surface appear to bring them together, but the era of US history prevents this from being truly established.
The most obvious shared experience is when the men of war return home. The McAllen brother doesn’t see the colour of fellow veteran Ronsel, their shared experience of war enough for the two to bond despite their cultural surroundings. Ronsel finds it hard to believe and directly asks why McAllen is being so nice to him. The reason should bring these families together, but the skewed relationship remains; at one point the veteran McAllen actually rushes to get Rensol’s head down as he gives him a lift in the front of his pick-up when he sees his father on the road. Slavery may no longer exist, but the lives of the black family in this story have not improved at all. A black man doesn’t belong in the cab.
Whether the era is accurately represented (probably so, being based on a book) it is a sad tale of intolerance in an era where there ought have have been an increase; in understanding and empathy. Films with a message such as this are not in short number, but Mudbound presents it in a much more subtle way that resonates and lingers in the memory. Much like Sweet Country, this is another depiction of the disgusting treatment of fellow humans due to difference and the fear it causes in some. It isn’t peasant to reflect on the fact that both films are from an less than a hundred years ago.