Film Review: SELMA
Director: Ava DuVernay
Written by Paul Webb
Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint Dylan Baker, Wendell Pierce, Tim Roth, Stephen Root
SELMA chronicles Martin Luther King’s crusade to secure equal voting rights for African-Americans in 1965. Attempts by black people to vote were being denied by many Southern states through strageies such as requiring them to recite the preamble to the Constitution, naming every Alabama judge, paying poll taxes and other reprehensible impediments to their civil rights.
King goes to President Johnson and is told that this issue will have to wait, that African-Americans should be content with the recent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This does not pacify Dr. King, however, and he and other local black leaders and some members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference determine that they will march from Selma to Montgomery, AL to bring attention to their cause, ending the march at the State Capital.
SELMA wisely concentrates on this one episode, not trying to cover the entire era. And it allows King to appear human, not always certain of the best way to proceed with the march, nor always the perfect husband. Johnson comes off much worse though, and Wilkinson shows him no mercy in his portrayal. I am not sure Johnson was quite as callous as the film intimates, but I will leave that issue for scholars to debate.
SELMA is beautifully filmed and acted. Some of the best scenes show the black leaders strategizing in the humble kitchens and living rooms of rural Alabama. And, of course, the march is tremendously moving, especially the footage of the real march half a century ago.