A bigoted good ol' boy relives Mississipi's bad old days.
DIRECTED BY PAUL SALTZMAN
Paul Saltzman’s The Last White Knight is, in theory, a laudable endeavour. Hoping to lend a human face to the still-festering phenomenon of American racism, the filmmaker and former civil rights activist sits down with Byron “Delay” De La Beckwith, a lifelong member of the Ku Klux Klan, and also the man who assaulted Saltzman outside a Leflore County courthouse in 1965. The resulting conversations are resolutely genial, even as Delay smirkingly recalls his participation in Klan campaigns to suppress black voter registration, and his father’s conviction for the 1963 murder of NAACP leader Medgar Evers.
Encouraged by Saltzman’s non-confrontational demeanor, Delay’s candor is often compelling. But their exchanges are ultimately less fascinating than Saltzman seems to believe. (His wonderment at their mutual capacity to overlook their divergent politics will be lost on anyone who’s ever politely endured a chat with a bigoted elder.) Meanwhile, Saltzman’s attempts to offer insight into Mississippi’s historical struggles with racial integration are undermined by his film’s erratic structure. Cutting haphazardly between the interviews with Delay and cursory contributions from the likes of Morgan Freeman (who worked with Saltzman on Prom Night in Mississippi) and Harry Bellafonte, The Last White Knight is well meaning, but decidedly muddled.