Selma photo starrating-4stars.jpgSelma begins with a bang – literally – showing the horrific 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. That terrorist act by white supremacists became a catalyst in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement – a spiritual wake up call. The quiet solitude of pretty little girls in their Sunday best, interrupted by the deafening blast is a frightening crime that hangs in the viewer’s mind. It’s an inflammatory start that incites anger over the attack on innocent life. Selma recounts the three protest marches that traveled the 54 mile highway from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery. These were to challenge segregationist policies designed to keep black people from exercising their right to vote.

David Oyelowo is the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He is impassioned yet understated and utterly believable as the heartfelt orator. His addresses to the masses have all the influence you’d expect from an individual responsible for one of the most famous speeches we still quote. Yet his “I Have a Dream” speech never appears here. No Selma concerns the movement King spearheaded that contributed to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. A big part of the film is the relationship between President Lyndon B. Johnson (a memorable Tom Wilkinson) and Dr. King. The reverend exhorts Johnson to sign the proposed legislation into law. The provisions of which abolished the poll tax and other means of keeping blacks and poor people from voting. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was already in place but King argued it didn’t go far enough. Their back and forth negotiations in the political halls are an interesting and sometimes depressing window into the deal making of the political process. His backroom sparring of words with the President are captivating.

Dr. King is aware that Alabama, under the leadership of Governor George Wallace, had a poor reputation when it came to civil rights. If Johnson comes across as more of a troublesome stumbling block that King needs to convince, George Wallace is the unrepentant racist devil that with whom King cannot reason. The pro-segregationist policies of the governor largely credited by his critics for creating an atmosphere of intolerance. King courts the cruelest nature of man with his civil disobedience. He understands that gentle protests confronted with the expected violent response will show the American populace the need for change. Indeed the first march ends with 600 peaceful citizens attacked by state and local police with batons and tear gas. It’s a galvanizing scene of epic proportions. The result has the desired effect. The horrific sight resounds as a call to action to every God-fearing churchgoer watching TV in the comfort of their own home. The demographics of the next march joining Dr. King is now a mixture of both black and white Americans from near and far.

David Oyelowo is mesmerizing at Martin Luther King, Jr. However it is important to note that the title of director Ava DuVernay’s movie is Selma and not King. For this is not a biography of the man but a chronicle of the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. The narrow focus affords the story the consideration needed to handle the detailed issues involved. The account does justice to a very specific moment. The narrative even details the various infighting amongst fellow protestors that don’t always agree with King’s methods. These are enthusiastic people and their passions frequently engage the audience. The drama judiciously extracts raw anger at the trampling of freedoms we take for granted. It’s hard not to get caught up in the blatant disregard for human rights. The police brutality on display resonates even more strongly today. It’s almost impossible to ignore how perfectly this tale corresponds with recent events. The story couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. It makes Selma an even more powerful film.


27 Responses to “Selma”

  1. Love the review my friend. Selma is one of those infuriating circumstances. It’s listed as a 2014 movie but yet they won’t put it out for more people to see until later in January. I’m really anxious to check it out.


    • Selma premiered at the American Film Institute Festival on November 11, 2014 and had a limited release in the U.S. over the 2014 Christmas holiday weekend. It is slated for a wide theatrical release on January 9, 2015.

      The wait is almost over!


  2. Really looking forward to how this is handled. Nice review Mark.


  3. There’s a certain amount of irony in the casting –

    In Selma, Tom Wilkinson plays US President Lyndon B. Johnson. In The Patriot, the same Wilkinson played British General Cornwallis.

    In Selma David Oyelowo playes the heroic Dr. King. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the Oyelowo plays the hated Steven Jacobs.

    As for Selma’s Gov. George Wallace – Tim Roth has the role. This time the casting was just right.

    Very fine review Mark, thank you.


  4. cant wait to see this. great review Mark!


  5. I can’t wait to see this, and I’ve continually wondered how the recent killings of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin would affect this movie as a whole. Also very fascinated by the Jim Crow laws (not sure whether or not that term is politically correct anymore, but I’ll go with it because that’s what the AP textbook calls them anyhow) and of course I can’t wait to finally see David Oyelowo play Martin Luther King after all this talk. Also, I’d never heard of that Birmingham bombing! That’s horrible!

    Though my biggest fear is that this’ll win Best Picture at the Oscars this year, over Birdman and Boyhood. I know the nominees haven’t even been announced yet, but these three are of course the most definite nominees, and Selma seems to be the one that the Academy might go for. Who knows, I should probably just be patient and wait for the nominations. 🙂


  6. Oh me that was supposed to be Michael Brown, not Trayvon Martin. Forgive me, I just woke up.


  7. Great review! It’s nice to see a film that “is not a biography of the man but a chronicle of” a single moment. There are so many movies that came out this year which try to cover an entire lifespan in a few hours. Not all of them do it well.


  8. Great review Mark. Reading this reminded me of why I loved this movie. Focusing on one instance of time was such a great idea. The bombing in the beginning terrified and saddened me. Still can’t believe human beings could be so cruel. I loved how peaceful MLK handled every situation. He really was truly a hero and David Oyelowo played him perfectly. 4 stars.


  9. I really want to see this.


  10. I’ve heard Selma’s narrow focus is one of its strong suits in terms of telling a fascinating story and showing a full picture of people involved in the movement, not just King. I’ve also heard that Wilkinson was miscast as Johnson, but it doesn’t seem like you felt that way. Do you think he was effective in the part? My friends said they thought most of the white actors were miscast. I haven’t seen the movie yet to judge for myself since it screened the same night at Inherent Vice.


    • I thought Tom Wilkinson good as as Lyndon B. Johnson. There has been some controversy about whether the character in the film behaves as the actual President did in real life. LBJ was once portrayed as the evil president who dragged the nation into Vietnam. I’m not addressing whether that description is fair. However I will say that next to that comparison, Selma actually makes LBJ look pretty good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think it did make him look pretty good. It certainly didn’t emphasize the importance of his influence as much as it could’ve, but I feel like he represented–in the movie–more the political climate of the time than LBJ himself. But I can see why there’s controversy.


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