Saturday, 21 February 2015


Equality. It started as a dream. A dream voiced by one man as he led the oppressed masses in rising against the powers that held them down. That man was Dr Martin Luther King Jr., and today's film tells some of his story. This is Selma.

King (David Oyelowo), King's dream is being held back by voting laws in Southern USA. President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) is reluctant to take immediate action and Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) has riddled the voting system with all sorts of hoops for the black community to jump through if they want to cast a ballot. For King, this does not stand. With James Bevel (Common) and Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce) he begins to plan marches from Selma to Montgomery to protest. But with the FBI watching King's every move and the hostile Alabama police force doing everything they can to prevent the protesters getting what they want, simply marching between two places becomes a life or death situation.

King apparently briefly dressed for work on the railroads

If there is something to be outraged about regarding Selma it is perhaps the lack of nominations for performances. Oyelowo, particularly, stood out as Martin Luther King, a voice known throughout the world, a face plastered across any equality movement. He does not just portray the doctor, he becomes him. At points, it is hard to tell if archival sound and video are used as he is so convincing in the role. Supported by a powerful ensemble, both as friends of King and as obstacles to overcome, Selma excels in representing a community. A community consumed with rage and anger, which is felt in the audience. The silence broken only by the sound of a police baton striking flesh encourages an enraged response, much like the clergy that viewed the hostility towards the peaceful protesters in 1965. We are drawn in to feel the upset of the characters on screen.

The importance of Selma today

Selma, as many successful biopics do, tells the story of a game changer. The marches portrayed pushed the president to take action, signing the voting act. Where it draws it strongest power, however, is in its continuing relevance in the United States today. Released in the year of numerous racial controversies (the Ferguson shooting, Tamir Rice's death, the chokehold that killed Eric Garner, the hashtags #icantbreathe and #blacklivesmatter), the film says, 'This is still important. We still fight these battles', a message captured brilliantly in Common and John Legend's 'Glory', a message which old white Oscar voters are offended by. Selma does more than tell a story, it holds up a mirror. Ava DuVernay has not only done justice to an important historical event, he has tapped into something topical and somewhat unnerving.

Selma is an important film. At times it moves a little slowly and drags around many scenes of King's personal life, but its set pieces are captivating, engaging, and upsetting.

Best Bit? The protesters sit, hands on their heads, knowing that the police will get violent. It is still, it is tense. It is powerful.

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