Mississippi Damned

Mississippi Damned

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tina Mabry
Produced by Lee V. Stiff
Morgan R. Stiff
Screenplay by Tina Mabry
Starring Adam Clark
Malcolm Goodwin
Michael Hyatt
Music by Ryan Adison Amen
Cinematography Bradford Young
Edited by Morgan R. Stiff
Morgan's Mark
Release dates
Running time
120 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Mississippi Damned is a 2009 American drama film directed by Tina Mabry. The drama features Tessa Thompson, DB Woodside, Malcolm Goodwin, Malcolm David Kelley and Michael Hyatt. The film was written and directed by Tina Mabry, based on her life growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi.[1][2] It was filmed in and around Ahoskie, North Carolina.[3]


Wanting to escape was the easy part. Taking place in 1986 and 1998 and based on a true story, three poor, Black kids in rural Mississippi reap the consequences of their family’s cycle of abuse, addiction, and violence. They independently struggle to escape their circumstances and must decide whether to confront what’s plagued their family for generations or succumb to the same crippling fate, forever damned in Mississippi. Bitterly honest and profoundly subtle, writer/director Tina Mabry successfully captures growing up in a world where possibilities and opportunities seem to die in the face of the suffocating reality of physical and sexual abuse, obsession, and a myriad of destructive compulsions.

In 1986 teenage cousins Leigh and Sammy, and Leigh's younger sister Kari, watch as their mothers and aunts struggle to maintain a roof over their heads. Leigh, a closeted lesbian, is devastated when her girlfriend announces she is marrying a man. Leigh attacks him and is arrested and kicked out of her parents' house. Sammy, a talented basketball player, is sexually abused by an older man, and paid for sexual acts in order to get the money he needs to support his burgeoning basketball career. After Sammy's mother stabs her boyfriend's lover and is arrested, Sammy is taken in by his aunt. He rapes his younger cousin Kari, Leigh's sister.

By 1998 the children are adults. Leigh is still hung up on her old girlfriend and continues to visit her. Sammy, a former professional basketball player, is out of work due to an injury. His pride and previous fame make him reluctant to take the minimum wage job he needs to support his wife and child. Kari, a talented pianist who has delayed college for years to take care of her cancer-stricken mother, is waiting to hear if she has been accepted by a musical conservatory. As she struggles to save money for school, she feels bound by family and friends, most of whom have no money to lend her or are financially dependent on her. She eventually turns to Sammy for money. Although he gives it to her, she is disgusted and ashamed for having asked him.

Sammy, feeling impotent, begins to seduce his son's underage teenage babysitter. When he is caught by his wife, she contacts the police. He commits suicide.

Kari eventually learns that her mother's cancer has returned and her father has been laid off work. She gives her parents Sammy's money and decides not to go to school. When she tells her aunt of her decision, her aunt urges her to go, warning her that if she does not leave now she is unlikely to ever go. Kari learns that she has been accepted to school in New York. Shortly after, she discovers that her aunt has committed suicide- by ceasing to take her diabetic medication- leaving her $25,000 for school. Kari packs up her things and leaves Mississippi, heading toward school.



Critical response

When the film was screened at the NewFest film festival in New York City, Variety film critic Ronnie Scheib, praised the film, writing, "For the black men, women and children in Mississippi Damned, Tina Mabry's autobiographical saga of intertwined destinies, that southern state epitomizes a domestic hell of borderline poverty and endemic abuse. Complex family trees sometimes make for tough narrative sledding, but the thicket of obligations, traumas and betrayals that entrap the 'damned' here are well worth any momentary confusion. Mabry brilliantly captures a community as organic as it is dead-end, and the tortured legacy behind simplistic notions of ever escaping it. The NewFest audience award-winner demands strong critical support to overcome its downbeat subject matter and lack of a star draw."[4]

The Philadelphia Inquirer film critic, Steven Rea, lauded the actors, writing, "Kelley (Walt Lloyd in Lost), Jasmin Burke and Jossie Thacker are among the busy ensemble whose exceptionally fine performances elevate what could have been a pile-it-on melodrama into something deeper and more unsettling."[5]




Despite a successful festival run, the film was unable to find distribution. The producer distributed it into a few theatres. In 2011 it premiered on Showtime and in 2015 it was made available through Netflix via distributor ARRAY.[6]


  1. Mississippi Damned at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. Staton, John. StarNews On-Line, "There are some 'Damned' fine filmmakers at Cucalorus," November 13, 2009. Last accessed: February 23, 2011.
  3. http://www.roanoke-chowannewsherald.com/2010/08/26/%E2%80%98mississippi%E2%80%99-movie-makes-ahoskie-debut/
  4. Variety film review, June 23, 2009. Last accessed: February 23, 2011.
  5. Rea, Steven. The Philadelphia Inquirer, film review, April 01, 2009. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
  6. Obenson, Tambay A. "Tina Mabry's 'Mississippi Damned' Is Now Streaming on Netflix, Courtesy of AFFRM + Array". Retrieved 13 November 2015.
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