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‘A Geography of Racism': Internal Orientalism and the Construction of American National Identity in the Film Mississippi Burning

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This article examines the contribution of the film Mississippi Burning to the construction of American national identity within the context of the discourse of internal orientalism. This discourse consists of a tradition of representing the American South as fundamentally different from the rest of the United States, and an important strand of this tradition involves construing ‘the South' as a region where racism, violence, intolerance, poverty and a group of other negative characteristics reign. In contrast, ‘America' is understood as standing for the opposite of these vices. Mississippi Burning continues this tradition by creating a ‘geography of racism', juxtaposing the brutality of white Southerners with the morality of two FBI agents sent to Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers. A variety of the film's devices, including the comparison between the racist white Southerners and the FBI agents, reproduces an American national identity that stands for tolerance, justice and peace.

Keywords: American National Identity; Film Analysis; Internal Orientalism; Racism; US South

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2005

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