selma-movie

The truncated version of why a film like Selma exists is this. On March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers along with members of a posse from Dallas County attacked protesters who were attempting to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala. The original plan for the marchers were to travel the bridge as well as the 50 miles from Selma to the state’s capital of Montgomery to protest illegal voting restrictions against blacks perpetrated by whites who still believed in inequality and segregation.

Any initial impetus in regards to the march began with stories of police brutality and bureaucratic ostracizing, culminating in the death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, a laborer and protester at the hand of a state trooper’s gun. The first meeting on the bridge, captured by a national television audience depicted officers using tear gas, excessive force by beating women and men with clubs. A second protest, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King a week later was met with a general standstill between he and Sheriff Jim Clark. The third protest, after prodding by sitting President Lyndon Baines Johnson commenced unopposed, leading Johnson to announce plans for the Voting Rights Act, which was signed later that year with King by his side.

Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a rather visceral, trying watch during its two-hour runtime. It may be her third feature film following the well received “Middle of Nowhere” but she understates fully how to shock an audience, whether by camera cuts, loud audible thwacks of a baton or foot against human flesh, cries of anguish or in one early instance, the bombing of a church where four girls, one who wanted her hair like Coretta Scott King, are killed.

The film charts itself within a four-month arc of the Civil Rights Movement. King, played with an excellent sense of gravity by David Oyelowo is set to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, Norway. He sighs with loosened restraints as his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) properly fixes his ascot, “feels good to be away from it all.”

From December 1964 to March of 1965, “Selma” doesn’t skate past certain monumental moments. They’re broached, given their proper respects and then slowly tie back in to the singular narrative of struggle. Oyelowo mixes humor, despair and weariness into his King, a portrayal of the Civil Rights activist that completely desensitizes every thing simple history tends to ignore. Ejogo’s Coretta bears the weight of the world on her shoulders, even in a pivotal scene where she questions Oyelowo of his long rumored infidelity. “That’s not me, he says after being played a recording of a lewd sex act over the telephone. “I know,” Ejogo responds. “I know how you sound.”

Taking cues from Paul Webb’s script, DuVernay’s depiction of the scenes and moments of life in “Selma” is akin to how one would see family. Even those morally corrupt individuals such as Tim Roth’s sneering and offensive George Wallace are fueled by principle. Every character, both supporting and main is integral to the dynamic from the ups, downs, fallacies and constant drama. Where there may be a scene of unity, King joking with SLCC members over a plate of Southern home cooking, there’s also conflict within the ranks of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee who feel King is taking credit for their work. King’s involvement in “Selma” may feel like it occurred only fifty years ago but many of the understated elements persist today.

The work shown here by DuVernay is gripping, even if there are minor ties to other historical depictions of civil rights heroes. The world will never forget Spike Lee & Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X but for the brief moment Nigel Thatch appears, the images of a reformed X wash into conscious. There’s a slick battle between waiting and impatience throughout “Selma”. King’s “Letters From Birmingham Jail” is a key reminder of such. Even when going back and forth with Johnson (played to a grayed tee by Tom Wilkinson), King wants action, quicker than any bureaucratic process will allow him. Stints in jail aren’t enough; even the tragic deaths of certain figures both white and black aren’t enough. The man has a thirst for quick and sudden change – change he feels he and those standing in the face of violence and bigotry have long earned.

Earlier this month, Oprah Winfrey who plays Annie Lee Cooper in the film questioned of the protesters in Ferguson and in New York where their leadership was. There are leaders, though not as high profile as King was in the sixties. These men and women probably won’t get a smarmy and nefarious individual like J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) prying into their personal lives and wanting to cause dissent by any means necessary, but they exist. They’ve been vocal for the past one hundred and fifty plus days since the death of Michael Brown and continue to be regardless if grand juries have aligned with a different view of justice.

“Selma” is not a movie that completely champions its heroes. It shows their faults, their misdeeds and their own moments of hubris. Some may see it as a more clear sense of history and how every move of the Civil Rights Movement was not smooth as some books may depict it as. It is DuVernay’s glimpse into a more “human” Martin Luther King and throughout it will call up emotions of anger, grief, solace and satisfaction. It won’t go quietly after the credits and the FBI tags of King’s movement fade either.

The Flawed King Of 'Selma' [@selmamovie @avaetc]
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