Just in time, “Selma” made its appearance in theaters nationwide after a year of civil unrest in America, marking the 50th anniversary of the March to Montgomery.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, it chronicles a 3-month period of time in 1965 during the trials and tribulations of Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters. British actor David Oyelowo delivers a riveting and convincing performance as King, displaying his known powerhouse leadership and lesser-known humane qualities.
Within the first hour of the film, King and his followers establish that Selma, Alabama, is the chosen battleground to start their movement after three young girls are killed in the Birmingham Church Bombing in 1963. King plots a nonviolent civil march from Selma to Montgomery to pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to create a voting act.
“Selma” brings out the humanity in King, highlighting his time of doubt, scandal and struggle. DuVernay tastefully addresses the multiple alleged affairs King had during his life while married to Coretta Scott King (Carmen Emojo).
Further along in the film, King is set with the decision to march forward to Montgomery in a second effort. We see him hesitate – a side American history books do not portray. Historically, King is viewed as an over-glorified saint, but DuVernay depicted that although a great man, King’s flaws are not absent.
As the story unfolds, King is met with difficulties with Johnson and authorities of Alabama in continuing his pressing toward civil rights. Tension rises throughout political offices as well as the streets. The action is not limited to the city of Selma, as King takes plenty of trips to the White House with demands that put stress on the relationship between him and Johnson.
“Selma” helps depict and create an understanding of the relationship between civil rights activists and politicians. Johnson and King battle throughout the film for the other to be on board his own personal agenda. The president originally wants King to help him lobby for his war on poverty, then the voting act ordeal. Although there is much controversy about the portrayal of Johnson, DuVernay illustrates him as politician first and foremost, someone seeking to advance his political agenda.
DuVernay recreates historical gut-wrenching scenes of white police officers brutally attacking the protesters with whips, bats with barbed wire, and batons in scenes of Bloody Sunday. This is a turning point for white America and its backing King.
As the narrative moves forward, King and followers are met by some unlikely allies in planning the march to Montgomery. Unfortunately, some must suffer for their stance with King at the hands of Selma’s Ku Klux Klan.
Audiences can expect to see appearances from well-known actors such as Oprah Winfrey, playing Annie Lee Cooper, and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Fred Grey. Although Winfrey is one of the producers, her lines are few within the film. Her scenes of physical distress outweigh her dialogue.
DuVernay excellently portrays the life of King without overlooking the details. Although she was snubbed for nomination as “Best Director” for the 2015 Oscar, Duvernay has proved cinematic worthiness and thus earned her place in excellent storytelling.
“Selma” is the film that every American needs to see.