Mississippi Damned opens with a display of rural setting, piano music, and kids playing. Based on a true story, the film is shown through the eyes of Kari Peterson, a young black girl, who lives in a poor, violent, neglectful family. Even though she is a little girl, nothing is hidden from her view-the adults are too busy drinking, gambling, and beating people to notice her during the intense moments. The gritty nature of the film is held together by the weave of the strong female characters.
Her mother and sisters struggle to cope with poverty, anger, addictions, and the men (who are often irresponsible) that they live with. Kari’s cousin, Sammy, lives with her parents who party all night, leaving the fridge empty and the home littered with bottles and cigarette butts. His father beats him when he steals money to buy the family groceries. A basketball hopeful, Sammy turns tricks to pay for team travel fees, which changes him for the worse.
Kari also has a sister, Leigh, who is lesbian, and as a result, must deal with the violent and lonely consequences of her reality. While Sammy has a shot at the NBA and Kari aspires to study music in New York, Leigh is left longing for her ex-girlfriend, Paula, who has chosen to give into her parents’ pressure and marry a man.
After Ellen's Danielle Riendeau referred to all the intertwined events as “enough drama to fill about six seasons” of a soap opera, but I see the searing anger, partying, molestations, neglect, and murder as very real elements of living in impoverished neighbourhoods. It’s a way of life for many people who live in fractured communities around the world.
The rawness of the film also speaks to the spirit of people who struggle on a daily basis to survive with the bare minimum. Kari witnesses so much trauma and experiences tragedies, yet she doesn’t shut down, she keeps going. The hardships presented in Mississippi Damned, because of the stellar cast, do not sink it into a depressing quicksand. It is a realistic portrayal of these families and how they relate make it soar.