It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film that genuinely made me forget where I was, if only for a little while, but Selma certainly did the trick.
The film follows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle to secure voting rights for all people and provides a brief, albeit tremendously important, glimpse into his life from when he won the Nobel Peace Prize through President Johnson’s signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Selma was shot right here in Georgia and director Ava DuVernay does a great job of transporting the actors and audience alike to a time in history that, we’re now reminded in real life, wasn’t that long ago. This is a movie with a fairly large group of core characters outside of the Kings, but somehow manages to spend just enough time with each of them for the audience to get a good feel for their individual personalities and roles within the Civil Rights Movement.
The film doesn’t skirt around the darker side effects of the Civil Rights Movement either. It addresses the FBI spying on King and various leaders of the movement, it brought the difficult meetings between King and President Johnson front and center, and it even made brief mention of King’s rumored infidelity issues. It was as honest of a look at the Civil Rights Movement and what went on behind closed doors as I’ve seen in a while and, while tough to watch at times, it’s a film that needed to be made exactly when it was.
David Oyelowo did an astounding job as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was easy to see that he didn’t take being cast in this role lightly and studied immensely because everything from the way he spoke to the way he carried himself was spot on. I’ve seen a lot of portrayals of Dr. King over the years and Oyelowo’s was arguably the most memorable and sincere. When he gave King’s famed speeches in the film, you could see the intensity in his eyes and when he and wife Coretta (gracefully played by the lovely Carmen Ejogo) had their private scenes, you could see the intensity replaced with sincerity. Oyelowo also did an amazing job at expressing King’s uncertainty as well. He humanized the famed civil rights leader in a way that other films sometimes seem to try and deitize him. In the film we see that King was an extraordinary, influential, humble man, but were also reminded that at the end of the day he was still a man, flawed and sometimes unsure human being.
All of the performances were impressive, but in addition to Oyelowo’s turn as King, Keith Stanfield as Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose tragic story I’ll leave up to the film to portray, was another that stuck with me after I left the theater. Although his time on screen is limited, the glimpses we get of him are raw and deliberate. Keith appears to be a bit of a newcomer in Hollywood, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more of him in the future. Oprah gave a heartfelt performance as real-life Annie Lee Cooper, who was inspired to join the movement for equal voting rights after having been denied registration again and again and is most well known for punching Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (a glorious moment in the film that’ll take you back to Winfrey’s Color Purple days).
Selma is a film that recalls a painful time in American history, bits of which still ring true today. There were a number of moments in the movie that made me think about events that have been dominating the news lately and, in a way, Selma serves as a reminder that our country has certainly come a long way, but the journey is nowhere near finished.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
Video Credit: Youtube