In 1997, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman made an offer that was ignored: to pay for the senior prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi, on the condition that it be integrated. Eleven years later, Freeman”s offer was accepted and history was made; Charleston High School had its first-ever integrated prom. Up until this historic event, even though classrooms had been integrated for decades, blacks and whites still attended separate proms.
Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman’s documentary captures the lead-up to this momentous occasion from the perspective of students, teachers and parents in the sleepy Delta town. While seemingly inconsequential, this rite of passage takes on a profound significance as generations of racism come into play. Some white parents forbade their children from attending the integrated prom and instead held a separate white-only dance.
One brave student, “Billy Joe,” is featured on camera in shadow to protect his identity from his racist parents who would disown him if they knew he supported integration. This powerful story shows how hope can overcome long-held prejudices as well as providing an important lesson about respecting differences and learning to accept one another.
This inspiring documentary by Paul Saltzman presents a unique opportunity to witness change happening in real time – something that doesn’t occur every day! It also encourages viewers to reflect on our own prejudices and how we can strive towards creating a more equal society for all people regardless of race or gender. If you’re looking for an uplifting film that celebrates acceptance and unity then Billy Joe at the Prom is definitely worth watching!