Selma may be the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his journey from Nobel Laureate to the man who pushed President Johnson to enact the Voting Rights Act. But, we found it just as stirring in terms of serving as a template for how one launches social action to tackle today’s tough issues that divide us. It still is very much a reflection of a monumental moment in our history and the extraordinary human being who changed the world.
David Oyelowo (Interstellar) stars as King and his performance is nothing short of a perfect storm of emotion, power, purpose and subdued righteousness. As director Ava DuVernay’s Selma begins, he is in Norway with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, largely for his march on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech.
He is struggling and it is not just his necktie that vexes him. King is wondering how this will play back home. As millions wrestle with poverty, racism and death, here King is in a fancy tuxedo accepting a prize.
But DuVernay and her screenwriter Paul Webb establish in those initial moments that, despite how it appears, there is no time where a microphone and an audience are present that is a wasted opportunity to further the cause. And then -- there’s the God-given talent that is King and his oratory skills. Nobody since and few before could deliver a message with the kind of passion, historical framing, biblical tinge and call to action as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He utilizes all those in his Peace Prize winning speech. And our journey to Selma begins.
Segregation has been legally (if not socially) abolished. As we see in the Selma trailer, for women such as Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, who also produced the film), the “legal” brick walls to voting are massive and impenetrable. If they can’t vote, these disenfranchised cannot instill change in their daily lives. It’s that simple.
King repeatedly impresses that point on President Johnson (an outstanding Tom Wilkinson) during several scenes that are simply riveting between the two. Johnson has his agenda and King’s Voting Rights law is not on it. With no other option left on the table, King promises a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama where attention will be brought to the issue of voting rights and how real change cannot be achieved without it.
There is a systematic destroying of the black people and nothing will change, even with the Civil Rights Law, without voting laws being altered. King knows it and lives are being lost until a wrong is righted.
Selma captures all that went into that iconic march and so much more. There’s a spirit and an urgency that comes through the story that is as resonant today as it was back in the mid-1960s. With all the events that have made headlines in 2014 involving race relations and the struggle of the African American community, even with a black president, the effort for true equality continues.
Our Selma review finds that watching the film is not only inspiring because of its ability to capture a moment in history when the fear of change was real and the terror of standing up for those rights was palpable, but it truly gets to the heart of who these real human beings were who lived it.
Above all else, know this: Change is never easy and it is most certainly never peaceful. But, all sides don’t have to be violent -- and that is the most supreme of lessons from King, and from Selma.