Selma Film Review
The motion picture
Selma directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo,
Common, and many more, depicts the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and college activists. While
Selma was praised for its dramatic retelling of history, DuVernay humanizes King from his “magic moment” on Washington
D.C., to a man with family conflict and a choir of critics. Often King is known as a “savior” who has garnished worldwide acclaim for ending segregation in the South, and although the film focuses on his life, we see that this was a community effort. She also takes a critical stance against President Johnson, and uses this movie to tell a fuller story of King’s efforts to end segregation in the South compared to the “magic moment” taught in history classes.
The 1965 march is a demonstration to end voting restrictions in Alabama, as seen in the opening scenes where Annie Lee Cooper is prevented from voting by a white registrar when he asks her to name all 65 counties in Alabama and she cannot. With opposition from Governor George Wallace and indecision from President Lyndon B.
Johnson, King and Co. attempt to set on the march but are ambushed by state troopers.
The second time, the state troopers let the march pass but King prays and turns the group back, citing a fear that they would cut off access to Selma. He is widely criticized for this, but on his third attempt the march is successful and he delivers a speech at the
Montgomery state capitol.
The plot of this movie follows the history of the 1965 march from Selma to
Montgomery with many similar characters. However, the purpose of the entire buildup to the final march allows the viewer to see King at a personal level. From his lunches with friends to late night arguments with his wife, Coretta, we not only see a growing man in
King but a leader trying to stay composed through so much oppression and pain. In the movie, King also has extremely vocal critics, especially the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This helps us see King less as a Jesus-like savior of
Blacks and more as a man who overcame struggles and differences to unite people into fighting for a cause. Growing up, we celebrate King in the likes of George Washington,
Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus, as all of their birthdays are federal holidays. We treat all of them as saviors - Washington saved us from the British, Lincoln saved us from slavery,
Jesus saves us from sin - and yet through showing how a man like King struggled in his fight for freedom, we see the growing pains that are far from what we know of him in history books.
Director DuVernay is an African American woman who grew up in Los Angeles,
California and occasionally spent summers in Alabama where her father grew up. From there, DuVernay graduated from UCLA, worked in journalism and public relations, and eventually began directing films. Her second feature film,
Middle of Nowhere
, won her the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance festival, making her the first African
American woman to take home that prize 1. Her film,
, was released 40 years after the 1965 march, and comes at another time of racial tension after the shootings of many unarmed Black men and women in recent years.
With the who , DuVernay takes a stance as a “storyteller” who is an African
American women, and thus tells it from her perspective. This impacts the story because she focuses on King and his efforts rather than the relationship between King and
Johnson, as the original script from Paul Webb had. She also paints Johnson in a negative light, which she defends as trying to focus the movie on the people of Selma, rather than as a white-savior movie 2 . With when , it seems merely coincidence that
Selma was released just months after the Michael Brown shooting, where police brutality and oppression of Blacks have made