The year was 1965, one year after Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize win, and two years after the brutal bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by white supremacists, a hate crime that killed four young black girls. It is these two events that preface the beginning of Selma, and perfectly yet devastatingly encapsulate the nature of the Civil Rights Movement in America at this time: a constant struggle between gains and losses. The place was Selma, a city in Alabama, whose continual denial of voting rights to the black community became the catalyst for one of the most influential events of the entire movement: the Selma to Montgomery marches, headed by Martin Luther King and the thousands of brave souls who put their lives on the line, in the name of doing what is right.
You don’t need to know a lot about American history to appreciate the importance of director Ava DuVernay’s film. From the very first scene you are drawn into this wonderfully directed, filmed and written story, that continues to hold you firmly by your heartstrings. The poignancy and relevance of this film and films like it, is that it not only informs you about the mistakes of our past, but it holds up a mirror to today’s society and forces you to face its uncomfortable realities.
At the helm of this movie is a phenomenal performance from David Oyelowo, whose depiction of Martin Luther King is both striking and moving. From the voice to the mannerisms, Oyelowo embodies one of history’s most important figures with a seemingly effortless ease, and the fact that he missed out on an Academy Award nomination is beyond me. Dominated by a wealth of talented supporting actors, including Carmen Ejogo as King’s wife Coretta and Tom Wilkinson and President Johnson, Selma sees you empathising with characters whose stories are often moved to the back burner, which is in large thanks to the writing. The use of footage and recordings from the actual Selma to Montgomery marches was another nice touch that served to drive home the sad truths of this story.
The issue with films similar to Selma is that you can often feel like you’re being beaten over the head with a certain agenda, with constant scenes of brutality and mistreatment that make the cinema experience more emotionally draining than anything else. However, Selma seems to handle this with a little more subtlety, aiming to have viewers come out of the cinema feeling uplifted and empowered, not downtrodden. In a way, this helps the message of the film resonate far more effectively, at least for me anyway. That’s not to say this film is without its dark moments, and you will find yourself reaching for the tissue box and flinching at hard-to-watch scenes on more than one occasion. But these are not the scenes that dominate the film, and I appreciate that Selma was different from the rest, in that sense.
Despite falling under the genre of ‘historical drama’, Selma has far more relevance than you might expect, and while it mightn’t be everyone’s first choice for film on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I strongly recommend taking the time to watch it. It will be time well spent.
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