Layered with its superb acting and underlining message, Selma brings the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. to the present day.
With everything that has happened in St. Louis last year, Selma is a film that engulfed me with its historical narrative and idealism. The modern day racial intolerance has nothing and everything to do with Selma. Director Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) brought together inspiration and dramatic power to hit moviegoers hard on an emotional level. She decided to focus on a key event (Selma to Montgomery marches) that changed the course of history for the United States between blacks and whites. Scriptwriter, Paul Webb, gives Selma a beating heart as we march with Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) on that very bridge.
It’s March 7, 1965; Alabama state troopers and members of the Dallas County posse attack 600 unarmed civil right demonstrators with armed billy clubs and tear gas on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, AL. These demonstrators were trying to peacefully march 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery, AL, as part of a long-enduring protest against the denial of voting rights to Southern African-Americans. The event was televised all over the country and opened the eyes to many Americans of what racial intolerance really was. This historic event is now known as “Bloody Sunday,” and showed a rather brutal time in our past as many blacks were beaten bloody by the state troopers. The murder of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson also played a crucial role to this march being started. Jackson was mortally shot by a state trooper during a peaceful march in Marion, AL.
His death haunted MLK and inspired the demonstrators to march from Selma to Montgomery. A few days later, MLK led the marchers but decided to turn back before crossing over the bridge, in fear of further violence. By the third time MLK takes a stand on the bridge with 8,000 marchers, their hard work and effort finally paid off and with the help of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s (Tom Wilkinson) televised speech over the subject matter. On March 21, the marcher’s pave the way from Selma to Montgomery where Mr. King, himself, delivers the speech How Long, Not Long at the State Capitol Building. All of this above holds value to a partial plot, as I do not want to spoil what comes before it in the film. DuVernay brings a bold new film to the screen and is backed by passionate actors (Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Omar J. Dorsey, Keith Stanfield, Lorraine Toussaint, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Wilkinson and Tim Roth). DuVernay only captures a piece of the American civil rights movement and she knew this going into this project, but this film serves as a bigger picture to that movement. It showed us how far we have come as a society towards unity and yet how far we are still from that.
British actor, Oyelowo transforms into preacher and leader everyone knew in the ‘60s. Oyelowo gives MLK dignity and grace to the role as he captives the audience with his strong spoken words and persuasion. One of the best performances of the year comes from Mr. Oyelowo, by what it means to truly transform into the character. Sadly, DuVernay and Oyelowo did not get an Oscar nom for their sheer authenticity and craftsmanship in Selma, while they undoubtedly deserved them. If DuVernay had gotten a nomination for Best Director, she would have been the first black women director to receive this nom in the 87 years of the Academy. While the Oscars may have snubbed Selma, it’s still a highly recommendable film to see. DuVernay paints a portrait of MLK’s life vividly on screen and Oyelowo grounds his physical roots to breathe words of truth out of the picture and beyond.
Winfrey also produces and acts in this picture. She plays Annie Lee Cooper and embodies her character with heartbreak and solemn. Along with her are Ejogo, Common, Dorsey, Stanfield, Toussaint, Gooding Jr., Wilkinson and Roth, who also embodied every aspect of their respected characters. Even though the King’s estate did not give DuVernay permission to use MLK’s speeches word-by-word due to copyright issues, DuVernay still takes the right path by using her creative license to recreate parts of these speeches and to use them alive and afresh. This factor helped benefit Selma in a whole different way. Dr. King's speeches uphold this film and breathe life into tragic areas. It’s a must see film of 2014 and is one to reflect upon after viewing, for me, Selma hit close to home and is a glorious testament of equality then, now and future.
Selma is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Violence, bigotry, brief cigarette smoking.
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