Films like this are difficult to get made and make. In a portion of the American population plenty of controversy surrounds the life of Martin Luther King and another group of people don’t know what to think about King’s assassination. The director of the film, Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere), ventured into an area others have tried before and with the clout of Oprah Winfrey was allowed to put on the screen her vision and with the acting excellence of a man from England was able to bring to life one of the most important figures in American history.
As you expect from a multiply nominated Oscar film the set, costumes, score, cinematography, story, and acting are all strong. Despite the tricky subject matter DuVernay able to not trivialize any important aspect of Martin Luther King and the march from Selma to Montgomery. She allows the story to make you feel anger, frustration, sadness or whatever appropriate emotion at the right time without going overboard on any. Most importantly of all you feel the reality of it all. The fact that this is a true story is easily recognized. Plus you understand that though we have come some ways in regards to civil rights there is still a way to go. The fight is not over.
Over a three month period in 1965 civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo – Interstellar, Jack Reacher) was thrust into the spotlight in the United States due to his spearheading of the civil rights battle. Early on in the year he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was fighting for equal voting rights for blacks throughout the United States. The opposition to this led to violent conflicts between the two sides. To bring attention to the fight King organized a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama. The amount of people participating forced the U.S. government’s hand and led to President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson – Shakespeare in Love, Batman Begins) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
What the film does well is making Dr. King into a human being rather than a saint. He is a flawed man not a perfect one in DuVernay’s film. At different parts of the film King is depicted as a father while others he is a skilled tactician. All this is made possible by David Oyelowo’s fine performance in the title role. His Dr. King is equal parts fury, intelligence, perseverance, and charisma. Quiet when it is called for and booming when needed.
A film goes nowhere unless the captain or in this case the director demonstrates a steady hand and an understanding of what the story needs to be told. Now, there are some minor issues with Selma, as there is with almost every film if you really look for it, like pacing, but when it counts DuVernay is up to the task. She is excellent at recreating well-known historical events and gives screen time to important players in the story like King’s wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo – The Purge: Anarchy, Away We Go), Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch – from television’s American Dream), Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth – Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dog), and J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker – Spider-Man 3, Secretariat). She has constructed a film that is a rallying cry for action at a time when events like what happened in Ferguson, Missouri are reminding us that race relations are hanging by a thread.