Review

Martin Luther King Jr. is a mythological figure who sits high on the list of most influential and inspiring people of all time.  Selma works at dispelling him as a purely mythological figure and shows viewers that King was like you or me, a man with flaws, an ego, and apathy toward people he saw systematically repressed.  It’s an extremely powerful film that doesn’t just show MLK’s “big” achievements.  While there’s plenty of fan-fare, it’s more about the man himself.  Viewers are brought into the homelife of the legendary leader, and get insight into who the man truly was and how he dealt with the consequences of the tough decisions he was forced to make.

Ava DuVernay, best known for her well-received documentaries, directed Selma to perfection.  From the first few minutes, DuVernay shocks and hooks the viewers into the story and establishes the tone of the film immediately.  Selma begins with MLK practicing his Nobel Peace Prize speech in the mirror, while Coretta is right by his side for emotional support.  While this is happening, we see the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama bombing that killed four young girls, which sets up the level of racial tension and is eventually the turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.  The early few establishing minutes perfectly set-up what the viewers will witness.  You get a glimpse inside the mind of King while simultaneously witnessing the horrendous violence that was occurring against African-Americans.

Selma works as a biopic on levels that most fail.  There is no attempt to show MLK’s entire life, but rather focuses on a few key acts that pioneered the Civil Rights Movement and how King dealt with the consequences of his actions, from unintentionally getting people killed to his family life deteriorating.  These moments offer insight into a life that was previously unknown.  It was great seeing the family and home life of King which offers completely new perspectives inside the man who to most is a legend we hear about in school and on the streets, but feels larger than life.  Selma shows that King was just a man (albeit an incredible speaker, leader, and a man with so much charisma), but still, just a flesh-and-blood man.

King was up against the world, which Selma highlighted throughout.  People forget that King was not only up against the racism and whites who controlled politics and the country, but the fact that there was a rift within certain African-American groups themselves.  Not everyone agreed with King, including Malcolm X and SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).  They all had different ideas on how to go about the movement, but after some time, realized it’s better to work together to really make the changes needed.

Selma is a must-watch, not only for the overall quality of the film but the important events that not everyone may know about.  It’s an important history lesson, but also reminds us how far we’ve come, but how much further we still have to go.  Things are a lot less black and white these days, with the gray area larger than ever.  Now more than ever we see violence against peaceful protestors looking to change the status quo.  In 2014 we still have race riots, unarmed black men from New York to Ferguson killed on the streets, while entire groups of people systematically repressed.  The march from Selma to Montgomery was about the right to vote, but according to the Washington Post when 80% of congress is white while 92% are Christian, how much have things truly changed?

I could go on for pages, but I’ll save you from reading my rants.  Suffice to say, we have a long way to go.  I don’t even want to think about how much further along we might have been as a civilization if not only King but Robert and JFK weren’t assassinated.  Still, this does not change the importance and influence King had on our society and progression of the entire Civil Rights Movement.  David Oyelowo is a force to be reckon with and his portrayal of King is simply remarkable.  Ava DuVernay and Oyelowo were recently both snubbed by The Academy, and received no best actor, actress, or best picture/director Oscar nominations.  I am perplexed by this decision, and can only assume its because of the unnecessary LBJ controversy surrounding the film (just my theory though).

Selma is an incredibly powerful film, and at times is hard to watch the level of brutality surrounding the movement and against black Americans.  It’s a beautifully directed, well acted, and extremely compelling portrait of a complex and inspirational man.  Happy Matin Luther King, Jr. day to everyone, and celebrate the man that helped bring The Civil Rights Movement to the collective consciousness of a country that needed a wake-up-call.  We are still far away from the end, but it’s important to remember the individuals who helped get our country to the place we’re at today.

Selma stars David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Common, Wendell Pierce, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Martin Sheen, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Oprah Winfrey 



About the Author

Peter Towe
Peter Towe
A graduate of UMASS Boston, I have successfully put off getting a "real" job, and continue to watch, produce, review, and obsess over movies. I lived in Boston while I completed my degree, and now live in Chicago trying the improv thing.