Leading Man

Documentary film explores the life of one of Mizzou's longest-serving leaders.

Only The Educated Are Free: The Journey of Michael A. Middleton_Trailer from Visual Production Services on Vimeo.

When the University of Missouri Board of Curators asked Mike Middleton to step into the role of UM System interim president in the fall of 2015, he was “honored and excited.” But his leadership strategy was relatively subdued and straightforward — which created an opportunity for important conversations.

“I decided I was simply going to be myself,” says Middleton. “If you are going to put me in charge, I won’t play games. I’m going do what I think needs to be done.”

The documentary film Only the Educated Are Free: The Journey of Michael A. Middleton — which premieres 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, at the Missouri Theatre and is free to the public — highlights many of the reasons why the Mizzou alumnus, civil rights attorney and former MU School of Law professor was chosen to lead the university at the time.

Executive produced by Juanamaria Cordones-Cook and directed by Jonathan McCormack through the MU Academic Support Center, the feature examines Middleton’s upbringing in segregated Mississippi during the ’50s and ’60s; his time as an undergraduate and law student at Mizzou; and his legal and political career. Dozens of family members, friends and colleagues were interviewed for the film, and scores of archival photos provide illustration.

“Mike Middleton left his comfortable retirement because of his tremendous love and loyalty to the University of Missouri,” says Cordones-Cook, a Curators’ Distinguished Research Professor who has produced 25 films. “He is an amazing healer, and those traits are something to cherish.”

It is the first feature-length documentary for McCormack, an MU alumnus who begins a master’s program at the prestigious University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts in Spring 2020.

“I’m a big fan of the Netflix documentary 13th about the prison system, so I drew visual inspiration from that film,” McCormack says. “What I love about Mike is that he wants to motivate others to at least see the problem and start the conversation. There has to be knowledge to even begin to solve the problem.”

Despite being a self-described “private person,” Middleton ultimately enjoyed telling his story to the camera and to others who take pride in the University of Missouri.

“This place gave me my education and the freedom to think freely,” Middleton says. “It validated my perspectives and helped me grow.

“MU means everything to me, and I am grateful to serve.”