Mississippi Burning is a 1988 film which tells a fictionalized version of the investigation into the real-life murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. The movie focuses on two fictional FBI agents (portrayed by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) who investigate the murders.
The film also stars Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey and Gailard Sartain, and was written by Chris Gerolmo and directed by Alan Parker. It won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Hackman), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (McDormand), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Sound.
The film has been criticized by many, including historian Howard Zinn, for its fictionalization of history. While FBI agents are presented as heroes who descend upon the town by the hundreds, in reality the FBI and the Justice Department only reluctantly protected civil rights workers and protesters and reportedly witnessed beatings without intervening.
On June 21, 2005, 41 years to the day after the murders, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter in the 1964 slayings of the three civil rights workers, and was later sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Mississippi Burning was preceded in 1975 by a television docudrama titled Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan, depicting many of the same events, and both productions follow the events portrayed in the 1990 TV-movie Murder in Mississippi.