Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo & Tim Roth
Running time: 128 min
A chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
“BEHOLD the birds of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?” This Biblical quote, said to Martin Luther King near the beginning of the movie as he faces one of his trials and tribulations, sets the tone of Selma and the often thwarted march in 1965. King, played by British born David Oyelowo, a small time preacher from Atlanta, finds himself thrust forward as the leader of the civil rights movement. Fifty per cent Black, Alabama grants only two per cent of its non-white citizens the right to vote.
King and his vast array of equally enthused and enraged advisors decide a march from Selma to the state capitol to highlight the injustice denied yet enshrined in the US constitution. The only problem being, neither President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) nor state governor George C Wallace (Tim Roth) see black equality as a great concern. Branded by F.B.I chief J Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) as a “political and moral degenerate”, Selma follows King from Nobel Peace Prize recipient in December 1964 to a jail cell in Alabama.
Director Ava Duvernay (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere) treats the tumultuous two years featured in the movie with great tenderness and humanity. She, along with script writer Paul Webb, refusse to hold King up on the pedestal we all now look back and upward to, but as a man with courage and frailties. King’s wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) is offered forth as a woman in turmoil. With her husband away so and threats being issued down the phone-line on a daily basis, the audience watches as she reaches breaking point. A shadow is cast over King’s infamous infidelities and Coretta is troubled throughout the entire movie, yet she remains loyal and first-lady-like despite the storm surrounding her husband.
Yet, this is not a two or three character movie. A vast array of supporting actors brings this film to life and at times offers the only humorous scenes. There are simply too many supporting cast members to name, but one who inevitably stands out simply due to her fame is Oprah Winfrey, now a veteran of six movies. Her character shares the same ideals and devotion to the cause as her comrades and often finds herself on the wrong side of an electoral official as she presents herself seeking the right to vote or more violently as she is often battered by state troopers as the mania grows over the march. The initial march with only 500 odd attendees and without the leadership of King ends at the town’s border at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in carnage. With tactics worked out and arranged by the activists, everything is caught on cameras and the images are flashed around the world. President Johnson is aghast at the public reaction which brings support from all parties of society.
Though the film focuses on MLK and his activists, Duvernay also reaches into the White House and the historical backdrop of the times, including the Vietnam War. Johnson is shown not as the monster we assume him to be today, but rather as human being in an extraordinary time under equal pressure. It’s this tapestry which Makes Selma unmissable. The acting is top notch throughout and the story is not preachy as I had initially feared.
If you’re into historical films and the undeniable will of humanity seeking equality you’ll love this film.
Four out of Five Nerds