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‘Free State of Jones’ Cast Praises How the Film Presents Slavery: It ‘Gives a Voice to’ Struggle

Free State of Jones,” from director Gary Ross, elicited rave reviews from the audience during its premiere on Tuesday night at the Directors Guild of America theater.

The action-drama feature, which adds to the number of films and television shows about slavery in America, takes the typical narrative in a different direction by showing that not all people living in the South supported slavery

Stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Kerry Cahill and Bill Tangradi attended the screening along with Ross and a troop of supporting actors.

Set during the Civil War and based on historical events, “Free State of Jones” tells the story of the defiant southerner Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) and his armed rebellion against the Confederacy, banding together with other small farmers and local slaves to launch the uprising.

“I find it really refreshing that [‘Free State of Jones’] was about unity. It wasn’t about black versus white,” said Raw, who plays Rachel Knight, Newt’s Creole lover. “It was more about poor white farmers and escaped slaves working together. I didn’t know that happened. I thought it was much more two-dimensional than that.”

The film, which Ross called an “example of what a coalition can be,” is one of few recent slave period pieces that doesn’t focus on down-trodden slaves. “I think it’s an example that we need allies,” Ross said. “The struggle for racial justice is too important for us to segregate ourselves.”

“We haven’t seen enough black people fighting for their own emancipation and I feel like that this film gives a voice to that struggle,” Ali added. “You see African-Americans participating in the democratic process and putting themselves in the crossfires in order to achieve and attain freedom.”

“Free State of Jones” hits theaters June 24.

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