- on Friday, 09 January 2015 15:57
- by Frank Wilkins
Forget the recent misguided controversy surrounding President Lyndon B. Johnson’s not-so-flattering, fact-blurred portrayal in Selma, and instead, enjoy the film for its powerfully poignant story. Then again, expecting to “enjoy” a film like Selma is a bit of a misguided notion in itself. As with last year’s 12 Years a Slave and 1988’s equally moving Mississippi Burning, one doesn’t enjoy these films. One experiences, commiserates, cries, and changes.
Contrary to popular perception leading up to the film’s release, Director Ava DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb never present their film as a meticulously-crafted timeline and biography of Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Martin Luther King’s life, nor as an historically accurate telling of the memorable march by civil rights protestors from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capitol of Montgomery. Instead, Selma is a singular slice of time during the tumultuous years immediately following 1964’s landmark Civil Rights Act.
But remarkably, by compressing and intertwining several momentous events that, in reality, occurred many years apart, the filmmakers are able to frame the story in a palpable space and time that plops us right in the middle of the fracas while remaining relevant even today. DeVernay and company depict the deadly 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and Dr. King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance before settling on the immediate events that led up to the famous march which eventually brought about passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Selma is about raging social and political awareness. Despite its liberties with historical accuracy, it should be required viewing for every American citizen to remind us that it’s impossible to know where we’re going as a people without knowing from where we’ve come.
Webb’s screenplay effectively depicts the horrific racism that pervaded the deep south at the time and focuses on many of the personalities responsible for the birth of the civil rights movement. British actor David Oyelewo is Martin Luther King while his wife Coretta, is played by Carmen Ejogo. Though unable to deliver MLK’s famous speeches verbatim due to unattainable copyrights, Oyelewo captures the legendary figure’s cadence and timbre without tipping over into blatant caricature. We see the man as not only the larger-than-life legend worthy of a marble likeness in our country’s capitol, but as a flawed human being wrought with anguish, doubt and vulnerability. The well-known marriage strains between King and his wife are never shied away from with effectively tender scenes, and King’s infidelities are handled with poetic grace.
During many of the film’s quieter moments, we’re a fly on the wall during organizational rallies and even at White House meetings between MLK and then president Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). Though LBJ’s fierce commitment to civil rights legislation is seriously lacking - even blatantly misrepresented, the momentously rapid turn-around in getting the legislation through congress and into the books isn’t glossed over.
As Selma’s story is really more about the people surrounding the movement than it is about King himself, the cast of other historically significant figures is triumphantly represented by the likes of Nigel Thatch as agitator Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), while Colman Domingo and André Holland are fellow Kingsmen Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young, the real force behind the movement. Tim Roth is the infamously segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, and Oprah Winfrey continues to impress with her Annie Cooper who famously punched County Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) on camera, in front of the nation. Though Dylan Baker misses the mark quite significantly with his portrayal of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the detailed FBI tracking of King’s every move – depicted in subtitles – is certainly quite chilling.
Though the film’s most impactful moments come from the moving recreations of the famous series of marches – the first marred by beatings, the second halted by King’s reluctance to lead his people into certain violence, and the third culminating with a triumphant speech on the Alabama capitol’s steps some 50 miles from Selma, the methods and motivation behind the series of protests are striking reminders of how far our country hasn’t come in her struggles with racism.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language.
Runtime: 128 mins
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Paul Webb
Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth
Genre: Biography | Drama | History
Tagline: One dream can change the world.
Memorable Movie Quote: "That means protest! That means march! That means disturb the peace! That means jail! That means risk! That is hard!"
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Official Site: http://www.selmamovie.com/
Release Date: January 9, 2015 (wide)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No cetails available.
Synopsis: Selma is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernays SELMA tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history.
No details available.