Open main menu

Wikipedia β

Free State of Jones (film)

Free State of Jones is a 2016 American historical period war film inspired by the life of Newton Knight and his armed revolt against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi, throughout the American Civil War. Written and directed by Gary Ross, the film stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali and Keri Russell.

Free State of Jones
A bearded man holding a rifle across his shoulders
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gary Ross
Produced by
Screenplay by Gary Ross
Story by
  • Leonard Hartman
  • Gary Ross
Music by Nicholas Britell
Cinematography Benoît Delhomme
Edited by
Distributed by STX Entertainment
Release date
  • June 16, 2016 (2016-06-16) (Atlanta)
  • June 24, 2016 (2016-06-24) (United States)
Running time
140 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50 million[2]
Box office $25 million[3]

It was released in the United States by STX Entertainment on June 24, 2016. It received mixed reviews from critics and grossed $25 million against its $50 million production budget.[3]



The story is based on the history of Jones County, Mississippi during the Civil War and the immediately following period. Although the plot of the movie is fiction, the overall story follows the history of Jones County, and many of the events portrayed are true.[4][5][6][7][8] The film is credited as "based on the books The Free State of Jones by Victoria E. Bynum and The State of Jones by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer".[5]


After surviving the 1862 Battle of Corinth and being told of the Twenty Negro Law, Newton Knight, a poor farmer from Jones County serving as a battlefield medic in the Confederate Army, deserts and returns home to his farm and his wife, Serena, after seeing his nephew Daniel get shot and killed. While there, he befriends Rachel, an enslaved woman who has secretly learned to read.

Newton's disenchantment with the Confederacy grows after finding out that troops were taking crops and livestock for taxes. After helping one family resist such a raid, he is pursued by Confederate agents and bitten by an attack dog. With the help of abolitionist-oriented Aunt Sally and multiple slaves, he escapes to a swamp where some runaway slaves led by Moses Washington tend to his wounds.

After the Siege of Vicksburg, many Confederates abandon their post, and many of them end up at the swamp, where Newton becomes their captain. The ex-Confederates and runaway slaves form a revolt against the Confederacy. They raid Confederate convoys and capture a piece of south-east Mississippi, organizing it as the "Free State of Jones". Despite getting little help from the Union, they manage to hold out until the end of the war.

Newton continues to fight racial inequality after the war. He helps free Moses' son from an "apprenticeship" to Rachel's former master. After Moses is lynched while registering freedmen to vote, Newton participates in a march of voters to the polls while everyone sings John Brown's Body.

Newton and Rachel have a son, Jason. Since they are unable to legally marry, Newton arranges to deed a parcel of land to her. The story is interspersed with the story of Newton's great-grandson, Davis Knight, who is arrested under Mississippi's miscegenation laws in 1948. Since he is possibly of one-eighth black descent, under Mississippi law at that time he is considered black, and therefore could not legally marry his long-time sweetheart. He is sentenced to five years in prison, but his conviction is thrown out by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1949, rather than risk the law being declared unconstitutional.


Actor Matthew McConaughey at Cannes Film Festival, 2015 (L), who portrayed anti-Confederate, rebellion leader, Newton Knight (R).



On November 5, 2014, an article on announced Matthew McConaughey would star as Newton Knight, a Civil War rebellion leader, with Gary Ross directing the film.[6] STX Entertainment was scheduled to finance the film with up to $20 million of the $65 million budget. IM Global will co-finance it, while STX will release the film.[6]

Jon Kilik, Scott Stuber and Ross produced the film.[6] On January 6, 2015, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was set to play the role of Rachel, former slave and subsequently Knight's wife.[9] Keri Russell and Mahershala Ali joined the Civil War drama on February 12, in which Russell was set to play Knight's wife, Serena Knight, while Ali was set to play Moses Washington, an escaped slave who joins Knight's rebellion.[10]

Angelo Piazza III, Marksville, La. and Jack's Powder Keg Company participated in the production with their cannon and black powder.[14]


In early February 2015, Project Casting reported that production was scheduled for February 23 to May 21 in New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana.[15][16] On February 10, McConaughey was spotted rehearsing for the film in New Orleans and again on February 21 in costume.[17][18] Principal photography began on February 23, and was scheduled to end on May 28.[19] On March 9, Adam Fogelson, Chairman of STX Entertainment announced the start of the production in and around New Orleans, with the release of a first look photo.[20] In May 2015, shooting was scheduled for Clinton, with East Feliciana Parish as a filming set.[21] On May 25, 2015, some filming took place at Chicot State Park around Ville Platte, Louisiana.


On February 25, 2015, STX Entertainment originally set a release date for March 11, 2016.[22] In October 2015, STX Entertainment moved the date from March 11, 2016, to May 13, 2016.[23] It was later announced in March 2016 that the date was moved from May 13, 2016, to June 24, 2016.[24] The first trailer was released on January 9, 2016.[25]


Box officeEdit

Free State of Jones grossed $20.8 million in North America and $4.2 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $25 million, against a production budget of $50 million.[3]

The film was released in the United States and Canada on June 24, 2016, alongside Independence Day: Resurgence and The Shallows and was projected to gross around $10 million in its opening weekend from 2,815 theaters.[2] The film grossed $365,000 from its Thursday previews and $2.7 million on its first day.[26] In its opening weekend the film grossed $7.6 million, finishing 6th at the box office behind Finding Dory ($73 million), Independence Day: Resurgence ($41 million), Central Intelligence ($18.2 million), The Shallows ($16.8 million) and The Conjuring 2 ($7.7 million).[27]

Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film has an approval rating of 47% based on 166 reviews and an average rating of 5.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Free State of Jones has the noblest of intentions, but they aren't enough to make up for its stilted treatment of a fascinating real-life story."[28] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 53 out of 100 based on reviews from 38 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[29] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[30][31]

The New York Times selected it as a "critic's pick", and reviewer A.O. Scott called it "a neglected and fascinating chapter in American history" and said it used "the tools of Hollywood spectacle to restore a measure of clarity to our understanding of the war and its aftermath."[32]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Free State of Jones (15)". British Board of Film Classification. August 30, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Brent Lang (June 22, 2016). "Box Office: ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ No Match for ‘Finding Dory’". Variety. Retrieved June 22, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c "Free State of Jones (2016)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2016. 
  4. ^ Richard Grant, The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2016
  5. ^ a b State of Jones (2016), History vs Hollywood (retrieved 26 August 2016)
  6. ^ a b c d e f Fleming Jr, Mike; Busch, Anita (November 5, 2014). "Matthew McConaughey & Gary Ross Mount Civil War Saga; Bob Simonds’ STX In Talks To Finance". Retrieved March 6, 2015. 
  7. ^ Mick LaSalle, "Movies to look for (maybe) in 2016". San Francisco Chronicle, December 30, 2015.
  8. ^ Pamela McClintock, "Matthew McConaughey's 'Free State of Jones' Gets New Release Date", The Hollywood Reporter, October 22, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Sneider, Jeff (January 6, 2015). "Gugu Mbatha-Raw to Star Opposite Matthew McConaughey in Gary Ross’ ‘Free State of Jones’ (Exclusive)". Retrieved March 6, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c Sneider, Jeff (February 12, 2015). "Keri Russell, Mahershala Ali Join Matthew McConaughey in ‘Free State of Jones’ (Exclusive)". Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Donald Watkins". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  12. ^ "Artrial Clark". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  13. ^ "Wayne Pére". IMDb. Retrieved 2017-04-24. 
  14. ^ Daye, Raymond L. (May 30, 2016). "LOCAL CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTORS INVOLVED IN SUMMER FILM PROJECTS". Bunkie Today. Archived from the original on November 22, 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2017. 
  15. ^ "‘Free State of Jones’ Starring Matthew McConaughey Open Casting Call". February 3, 2015. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  16. ^ Scott, Mike (January 7, 2015). "Matthew McConaughey's Civil War drama 'The Free State of Jones' to shoot in New Orleans and Lafayette; extras sought". Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  17. ^ Waugh, Heather (February 11, 2015). "Matthew McConaughey sports scruffy beard on stroll in New Orleans as he prepares to film civil war drama". Retrieved March 6, 2015. 
  18. ^ Zhao, Helen (February 22, 2015). "EXCLUSIVE: First look at a very scruffy Matthew McConaughey on New Orleans set of Civil War drama The Free State Of Jones". Retrieved February 26, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Mathew McConaughey begins filming ‘The Free State of Jones’ in Louisiana". February 26, 2015. Retrieved February 26, 2015. 
  20. ^ Evry, Max (March 9, 2015). "First Look at Matthew McConaughey in The Free State of Jones". Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  21. ^ Warren, Stephanie (March 4, 2015). "Major motion picture to be filmed in Clinton". Retrieved March 7, 2015. 
  22. ^ Lang, Brent (February 25, 2015). "STX Entertainment Dates Films With Matthew McConaughey, Julia Roberts, Jason Blum". Retrieved March 6, 2015. 
  23. ^ Busch, Anita (October 22, 2015). "STX Pushes ‘Free State Of Jones’ To Summer 2016, Dates ‘The Space Between Us’". Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  24. ^ McClintock, Pamela (March 9, 2015). "Matthew McConaughey's 'Free State of Jones' Goes Up Against 'Independence Day: Resurgence'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 9, 2015. 
  25. ^ Ryan Parker, "Matthew McConaughey Starrer 'Free State of Jones' Trailer Released", The Hollywood Reporter, January 9, 2016 In front of The Revenant.
  26. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro (June 26, 2016). "'Dory' Swallows ‘Resurgence’; ‘Shallows’ Rides $16M Wave; ‘Free State Of Jones’ & ‘Neon Demon’ Wounded". Retrieved June 26, 2016. 
  27. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for June 24–26, 2016". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  28. ^ "Free State of Jones (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 2, 2016. 
  29. ^ "Free State of Jones reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved July 7, 2016. 
  30. ^ "CinemaScore". [permanent dead link]
  31. ^ Brad Brevet (June 23, 2016). "'Independence Day', 'Shallows' & 'Free State of Jones' Must Contend with 'Finding Dory'". Box Office Mojo. 
  32. ^ A. O. Scott, Review: Matthew McConaughey Rebels Against Rebels in ‘Free State of Jones’, NYT Critics’ Pick, New York Times June 23, 2016, page C1 (Accessed 26 August 2016)

Further readingEdit

  • Bynum, Vikki E. The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. ISBN 9781469627052.
  • Downing, David C. A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58182-587-9.

External linksEdit