Mississippi Damned follows the lives of three children in rural Mississippi surviving on the hope to live out adulthood anywhere but. Starting in 1986, the oldest, Leigh (Chasity Kershal Hammite), counts her pennies and the days until she can escape the oppression and disapproval of her family.
To escape Leigh would leave her younger sister Kari (Kylee Russell) behind with their critical mother, Dolores (Michael Hyatt, The Good Girl), and gambling-addicted father, Junior (Adam Clark, Public Enemies). Luckily, their aunt Anna (Simbi Khali, We Were Soldiers) has helped to nurture the musician in Kari. Fast forward to 1998 when Kari (Tessa Thompson, For Colored Girls) has the opportunity to leave for college.
The girls' cousin, Sammy (Malcolm David Kelley, Antwone Fisher), hopes his skills on the court will be his ticket to a better life, but his alcoholic mother, Charlie (Jossie Thacker, TV: Living Single) drinks away the money needed to send him to the recruit. Though he escapes, the adult Sammy (Malcolm Goodwin, American Gangster) finds himself returning to the homestead just as Kari struggles to make her dreams come true.
I don't usually provide such a lengthy synopsis in a review, but should you choose to watch Mississippi Damned (which I highly recommend you do), you will discover an intricately woven story. Writer-director Tina Mabry draws from her own experiences growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi to craft her feature-length debut. Damned is anything but light fare. Mabry tackles themes of sexual abuse, alcoholism and murder, showing how these sins of the parents are visited upon the children.
The greatest strength of Mississippi Damned is the exceptional cast. For many, Tessa Thompson and D.B Woodside (Romeo Must Die) may be most recognizable; she for her stints on the shows Heroes and Veronica Mars, he for his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, and most recently, Hellcats. While they give strong performances, their costars are just as deserving of praise. All the major players skillfully convey the stark reality of their characters' lives.
The cinematography crafts an oppressive and claustrophobic mood. There are, however, a few scenes when I would have preferred more lighting. The dimness deprived audiences of the full weight of the actors' performances.
Mississippi Damned doesn't conform to the cycle of lows and highs one would find in Hollywood films. Though atypical, it's emotionally stirring and riveting. Don't take my word for it; trust the judgment of the numerous festivals which have awarded Mississippi Damned several best narrative and best feature film awards.
If you're interested in seeing an overlooked gem, the DVD is available exclusively on the film's website; www.mississippidamned.com/