Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Root, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo
Rated: PG-13 (disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language)
A chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
By Cole Schneider
I’m biased in my review of “Selma”. I have artwork in my home supporting Dr. King. He has been a source of spiritual inspiration as well as a challenging ethical figure for as long as I’ve been of age to carry an ethos. As a middle class white man far removed from these events, “Selma” is a platform which demands I identify and empathize with victims of racial prejudice yesteryear and today. I strive to be like the priest from Boston from the film, willing to answer the call to stand for justice even when it means the forfeiture of his own advantages, to willingly see the world from the eyes of the subjected and stand with them in their struggle.
If “Selma” was an otherwise mediocre film it would still have Dr. King going for it. He is a vibrant centerpiece and David Oyelowo portrays him with staggering grace. “Selma”, though, is far more than that. It’s a stylish, stirring take on the events surrounding the march he led from Selma and the political innuendo surrounding it.
It’s neither as startling as last year’s Best Picture winner, “12 Years a Slave” nor as richly prescient as “Fruitvale Station”, but it captures a moment in black history–nay, American history–invaluable to citizens today, black, white, and otherwise. “Selma” is an old story told by a grandparent with the youthful energy of a college kid.
Hopefully people will stand with this film as Americans stood with MLK then and force the hands of big Hollywood studios the way that President Johnson’s hand was forced through the events in a small Alabama town. Hollywood simply has no more excuses to ignore black America. Dr. King would press the issue.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
This movie is called Selma, NOT “The Martin Luther King Jr. Story”, for a reason. The intensity and significance of the Civil Rights movement is captured all through one seemingly small, but ultimately huge, demonstration. And while King’s a more than prominent part of this story, and is even the de facto protagonist, Selma was a victory for more than one individual, and DuVernay and co. know that. With a beautiful lead performance by Oyelowo, this is stirring and engrossing dramatic filmmaking that humanizes history and an icon, embracing every part of the ugly truth.
Selma doesn’t rely on lazy-biopic gimmicks to catch us up to speed. The filmmakers rightly assume a basic knowledge of King and his impact. This gives the story room to breathe, letting the depth of details and emotions hold the screen over dry facts. We get to see the heartbreak of the injustice up-close, the politicking of all reigning parties (including a fascinating look at the White House), the fear and difficulty inherent in true non-violent protests, and the ultimate hope of goals reached. The script has a few dull moments that could’ve hit the editing room floor, and some of the casting could be seen as stereotypes, but there is intentionality to director DuVernay’s subtly dusty yet intensely personal film.
Really, it’s hard not to feel personal about Selma, given the state of current racial unrest. We are far from past the teachings of Dr. King, but a devastating-yet-forward-looking film like this can help us learn to see the complexity inherit and necessity in justice. Selma isn’t emotionally manipulative; it is emotionally necessary.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars