The unforgettable true story chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay's "Selma" tells the story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history. Written by Miss W J Mcdermott
January 9, 2015
Selma: A Very Important Film about a very important bit of History
In Selma David Oyelowo portraits the legendary historical figure Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The story joins Dr. King from his Noble Peace Prize award presentation in Oslo Norway in 1965 through his famous march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The film pin points several key moments and people in this violent and turbulent time in history. Some powerful moments include Dr. King’s meetings with LBJ played very convincingly by Tom Wilkinson. This is a tour de force cast with Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding Jr., Martin Sheen and Common to name a few.
Let me start off by saying that this is a very important film that everyone should see, as a means to become more acquainted with this important time in history. Each actor with major roles in the film played actual people in history, not just random plot driving fictional vehicles. Tim Roth is phenomenal as George Wallace, the racist governor of Alabama. Dylan Baker does a very convincing J. Edgar Hoover, a better cast than Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar (2013). But at the heart of this film is David Oyelowo, carefully playing one of the most iconic and important men in American history. A lot rides on the shoulders of an actor who plays that role. You don’t want to be doing an SNL sketch type parody of Dr. King, despite how easy it could be to jump into his iconic speech patterns. Oyelowo, brings great heart and sprit to show us a deeper look at Dr. King. I think it’s a more intimate portrayal that shows more pain, worry and self-doubt than ever before. Oyelowo’s performance is the best part of this film.
As for the directing, I feel the director Ava Duvernay was a little in over her head in a project of this magnitude. Her directing expertise has been limited to a few independent films, shorts and television episodes. In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Duvernay pointed out that she is an independent film director. As she put it, a person who films people talking in rooms. Despite some amazing performance, Selma plays out like a History Channel or HBO miniseries. I think a more experienced director should have been called in for this project.
Overall Selma made me deeply reflect on the rights I and most Americans take so arrogantly for granted. It’s sad we live in a country that would rather vote for a TV game show winner than for State and Local officials. I think it’s extremely short sighted to think of what Dr. King did only as it directly relates to African Americans in this country. Dr. King’s message was about everyone having a voice, so that the powers that govern us reflect the wants and needs of the people. We are not living out Dr. King’s dream without that voice.
This is a tough review to write because I really wanted to say this movie was great, but just can’t go there. Selma, as we know, is a story about one of the greatest men in American history and specifically is a story about one of the most important American lessons in freedom and civil rights. Selma had a lot to live up to … it was oh so very close. But it just didn’t hit the mark that I expected.
That said – I do need to state that we didn’t have the most pleasant viewing of the film. Matt and I decided to see Selma on Martin Luther Day and knew we would have a crowded theater. What we were not expecting was the chaos inside when the lights went down. To our immediate left, a couple “kissy-facing” throughout the film. Around us, teenagers running up and down the stairs and yelling “shut the F*** up!” to each other between giggles. It was so disappointing. Yes — the movie wasn’t a typical Hollywood blockbuster but it is a snapshot of American history that has impacts on our world today. Selma is an important film to see no matter your age, sex or ethnicity. It was difficult to witness the disrespects of a handful of the audience during this movie when the screen was showing hideous actions of racism and glorious acts of class and heroism.
David Oyelowo does a fantastic jobs portraying Dr. King. It is a very very very difficult role to play and he stepped up to the plate to show the both human and heroic side of Dr. King. As you may have read in recent interviews, Oyelowo worked hard not to be a caricature of the Civil Rights leader. It’s very easy to follow the Selma story with him at the realm. The support roles were also fantastic – very believable and strong.
But something was missing. It wasn’t the acting. Maybe the script? Maybe the direction? The story is so moving — it’s a real, raw look at a scary and embarrassing time in American where one man chose peace and dignity and God before personal anger and frustration. You walk out of the movie shocked that these horrific events happened just a generation ago. You walk out realizing that men, women and children died on our streets to fight one of the important rights for every American — the right to vote — and we just take Election Day as another Tuesday.
Creating a film to honor not only Dr. King but the men and women behind the Selma protest is incredibly important and necessary for all Americans to see — but unfortunately Selma felt more like a high school substitute-teacher film versus what we expected and hoped for. I wonder if it was because it is difficult to dive into the story, personalities and purpose in 120+ minutes. As TV movies and series become just as prestigious as the silver screen, I wonder how Selma would have done as a HBO / Showtime special or mini-series. When I look at what HBO did with The Normal Heart I can’t help but wonder what Selma could have been with a bit more time to develop the story in the hands of HBO, Showtime, Netflix or Amazon.
This is a movie for all to see — I’m just not sure it is a fit for theaters. It’s a one and done viewing that is suited for home and/or the classroom. That’s just my take … I would love to hear what you think. Do you think something was missing from Selma? Or do you disagree completely?