“Selma,” a poignant historical fiction film of the events and times of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s leadership of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to eliminate voter suppression, was nothing short of extraordinary.
In spite of mixed reviews and criticism for supposed historical inaccuracies, the film’s limited Christmas Day debut and subsequent January 9th opening weekend garnered second place at the box office and grossed $13.49 million.
At the forefront is the March 7, 1965, march that became known as “Bloody Sunday” after more than 600 marchers were attacked by state troopers and angry citizens with billy clubs and tear gas on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Amelia Boynton, one of the march’s organizers, was beaten unconscious and the picture of her body lying on the bridge was published and televised all over the world.
Intertwined with beautifully written speeches and breathtaking cinematography, historical characters and facts escort viewers through the turbulent 1960’s. Kings’ associates and civil rights leaders are depicted with authenticity. The film depicts, in vivid account, organizing sessions and the way in which the leaders traveled and were received and housed in private homes.
British actor David Oyelowo portrays King in an amazing reincarnation right down to the mannerism and voice of Dr. King. Another British actor, Carmen Ejogo, who bears a striking resemblance to Coretta Scott King, portrays King’s wife. The cast also includes Oprah Winfrey, Common, Lorraine Toussaint, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Nicey Nash and many others.
The film opens as the Kings are preparing to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout, several glimpses of their marriage and family life, including the FBI wire tapings, are presented as a side bar. As the film unfolds, historical events such as the church bombing which killed three little black girls, and the brutal murder of civil rights activist James Reeb, explode on the screen.
One scene I found particularly moving depicts King in a moment of weariness in the struggle and has him calling up famed gospel singer Mahaila Jackson to hear sing a song of encouragement over the telephone.
Other exceptionally dramatic scenes were of Dr. King’s interaction and meetings with President Lyndon B. Johnson. These scenes have drawn a great deal of criticism from many who feel Johnson was portrayed as an obstructionist when, in fact, he was believed to be a supporter of King who wanted to manage the situation until the time was more acceptable to launch new legislations.
King’s doctrine of nonviolence is front and center, and in stark contrast to that of Malcolm X, known for being extremely different from King, but who nonetheless requests to open a meeting in Selma so that he can signal to the local authorities the alternative that exists to the Baptist preacher’s civil disobedience.
The film, a must see for the entire family, was directed by an African-American woman, Ava DuVernay, who worked with screenwriter Paul Webb to rewrite the film’s King speeches. Due to previous contractual obligations, the original King speeches could not be used in this film.
“Selma” reaffirms Dr. King as a knowledgeable, powerful, passionate, and a true champion of all people. It should compel viewers to learn about the events that ultimately led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
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