By Michael Miller
June 23, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT

This article originally appeared on

Matthew McConaughey’s new film takes place over 150 years ago, but its themes of freedom and racial equality seem more relevant than ever.

Free State of Jones tells the true story of Newton Knight (played by McConaughey), a poor Southern farmer who deserts the Confederate Army to lead his own rebellion.

“I couldn’t help but feel a certain very vital relevance. There are definitely issues that are center stage here today,” McConaughey said during a sit-down with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly’s editorial director as part of the exclusive video series The Jess Cagle Interview.

And with the upcoming presidential elections, McConaughey notes that the movie feels especially pertinent. “One of the underlying things is that freedom’s been something that people have fought for since long before the Civil War,” he says. I’m pretty damn sure that it’s going to be something they’re going to be fighting for long after next year.

“Yes, we’re evolving,” he adds, “but I think it will be continuous work that we’ve got to do.”

Free State of Jones hits theaters Friday.

Watch the full interview above.