Essay on Lyndon B. Johnson and King

Submitted By danieljasonlew
Words: 1232
Pages: 5

Daniel Lew
Selma Film Review

The motion picture
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
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
, 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
, it seems merely coincidence that
released just months after the Michael Brown shooting, where police brutality and
oppression of Blacks have made…