Everybody should know the story of the Scottsboro 9 (you can Wikipedia it). This movie does not tell the whole story and I really have no quibble with it except they should have pointed out that Judge Horton could have dismissed the case for lack of evidence in 1933. If you add up the sentences of the nine boys, later men, it's over 100 years. The last Scottsboro boy incarcerated, Patterson, escaped in 1948 from hard labor on a chain gang, out on a road somewhere, just like in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". All of the Nine were incarcerated, beaten up, shot in the head, etc., for at least six years.
One boy was being transported and got into a scuffle in the car and a deputy shot him in the head. The Communist Party started sending them food and so on. The guards really hated them. At one point they were put in a private prison which had been declared unfit for prisoners because of the rats, bedbugs, etc. No air conditioning in the South at this time, obviously. They also were in a room right next to the death chamber. It would be as if you had a bathroom next to your bedroom and occasionally the guards took someone from your (large) bedroom and fried him in the electric chair in the bathroom, and probably you had heard his story and maybe you thought he was also innocent.
Anyway, Judge Horton's not doing the right thing and dismissing the case is probably glossed over because the movie makers wanted the audience to have a hero. The case ended Judge Horton's career and he was extremely erudite (you can read his written opinion of the case, accompanying his judgment to set aside, in books about the Scottsboro Nine and no doubt online somewhere), so it was a waste. He lived there for 30 more years and he should have been a judge all that time.
He should have dismissed because there was no evidence whatsoever. In the second trial Ruby Bates said she had only been corroborating what Victoria Price said because she, Ruby, was intimidated and thought it best to do what Victoria said, "Follow my lead." In fact nobody had raped her or Victoria. Plus Leibowitz pointed out that the other eyewitnesses in the first Scottsboro Nine case had not been able to see the train.
The actress who played Victoria Price should have made herself even uglier and more belligerent, like Charlize Theron in Monster. They should have made it plain that Victoria Price had been a prostitute for white and black men for years and had been transporting Ruby Bates, a minor, across state lines for the purposes of making money as prostitutes and had been in prison for fornication. (Something I read said some of the hobos were glad to go to jail to get something to eat so I am not sure how hard her jail sentence was.)
Update: I have been doing some more reading and the person who started all this trouble, Victoria Price, was 27. She lied and said she was 21. She was afraid she was going to get into trouble for transporting a minor across state lines to make money as prostitutes. Ruby Bates was 17. It's called the Mann Act. She must have been a prostitute for over a decade. Nobody in that tiny cotton mill town could survive on what they made at the mill. The Aileen Wuornos story also shows how hardened someone becomes after years of being a prostitute. So I don't think LeeLee Sobieski should have been cast because she looked so fresh and innocent. Her acting was fine. The sheriff and the deputy from that tiny town were called in as character witnesses by Mr. Leibowitz and both said Victoria Price was a complete liar.
Update: The code of the South required the lynch mob to be at the train stop just because the black boys threw the white boys off the train. No black person was allowed to get away with raising a hand to a white person. Obviously the mob would be even more likely to lynch the black boys/men accused of rape.
So when Victoria Price called "Rape!" she was essentially saying, "I'll show you how to put these [word omitted] in their place -- I'll say they raped me." This is in addition to her wanting to keep them from investigating her hobo-ing, which is punishable as vagrancy, and pimping for Ruby Bates. Victoria had never been "the fair flower of Southern gentility" before and must have been a sociopath (consequences to other people don't enter a sociopath's mind).
If the boys who had a fistfight had been white and the ones who got thrown off the train had walked to the nearest sheriff's office and said they wanted to file a charge of assault, the sheriff probably would have said they'll get away before we catch them and I'm liable to charge all of you with vagrancy, so go away and quit bothering me.
I also think if "The Haywood Patterson Story" was made into a movie, a young Laurence Fishburne would have looked just like him. Just goes to show how superficial people are! In other words, Haywood Patterson did look kind of aggressive. If he had looked like Anthony Anderson and had not started slugging it out with the white guy who evidently tripped him or whom Patterson tripped or however it started, the whole thing would not have happened. Patterson did spend the longest time in jail, from the time of the alleged assault, March 1931, through his escape in 1948. Then he was re-arrested and died in jail of cancer in 1952.
If I am saying Patterson was "guilty" of being "mean-looking," please forgive me as I am contrasting it with one of the other guys who was blind in one eye and only had about 25% of normal vision in the other eye and was hobo-ing from place to place trying to earn money to buy glasses so he could rejoin the human race. Would have been better for him if he had been a blind hermit.