Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenwriter: Paul Webb
Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Lorraine Toussaint, Wendell Pierce
Rated PG-13 | 127 Minutes
Release Date: January 9, 2015
Directed by Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere, I Will Follow), Selma is the story of a movement. The film chronicles the explosive three-month period in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) led a campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The 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.
Selma isn’t the first film about the civil rights movement, nor is it the first to feature Dr. King. What makes DuVernay’s film special, however, is that it doesn’t depend on the stereotypical white savior to rescue people of color from their plight. Films like Mississippi Burning, Ghosts of Mississippi, and To Kill a Mockingbird explore segregation, racism, and injustice for African Americans, but always with the help of an idealistic white person.
Selma is the first major Hollywood movie to focus on the blood, sweat, and tears of the African Americans that made the movement happen. Finally, blacks are the heroes in their own story. Yes, there are white people – like James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo – who make the journey to Selma to support King’s cause, but the triumph of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a direct result of the sacrifices made by Black Americans.
Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey), James Bevel (Common), Bayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce), James Orange (Omar Dorsey), and Amelia Boynton Robinson (Lorraine Toussaint) were instrumental in the movement – and for the first time on film, we are seeing their influence.
There’s been a lot of controversy about DuVernay’s film –Â that it plays fast and loose with the facts – but it’s all blown out of proportion. If there’s a villain in Selma, it isn’t LBJ –Â it’s Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston), Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), and the countless ignorant white folks who stood in the way of progress. Wilkinson’s Johnson is just another savvy politician who doesn’t share King’s sense of urgency on the voting issue. He’s got other fish to fry – like Vietnam – but he isn’t portrayed as a monster.
This whole “controversy” is nothing more than a smear campaign – an attempt to knock Selma out of contention for Oscars so Harvey Weinstein can shove another stiff, not-so-great British biopic (The Imitation Game, aka 2014’s The King’s Speech) down our throats. Before you feign outrage at the so-called “historical inaccuracy” of Selma, witness its power – its boldness –Â and its remarkable performances.
Selma is one of the best pictures of 2014. It is without question the most powerful film of the year, and an extremely relevant work that shows how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go in order to live in a society that fully embodies King’s ideals. Oyelowo is captivating – a performance that deserves Best Actor and belongs alongside the great portrayals of historical figures in cinema.
Forget the controversy –Â see Ava DuVernay’s gripping, challenging movie because it takes a historical icon and makes him a real man with flaws and faults. After the screening I attended, blacks and whites gathered in the theater lobby to comfort each other –Â everyone was in tears. What a commanding and potent film that it could inspire actual catharsis –Â it shows just how important and powerful cinema can be at the times we need it most.
Selma opens nationwide on Friday, January 9th.
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