Selma (2014)


Cast includes: David Oyelowo (The Paperboy), Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction), Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Carmen Ejogo (Pride and Glory), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton), Common (Now You See Me), Wendell Pierce (The Wire), André Holland (42), Stephan James (Home Again)
Director: Ava DuVernay (This Is the Life) Writer: Paul Webb (first film)
Genre: Drama | History (127 minutes)


Huffington Post

As Martin Luther King prepares to accept the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, he’s thinking of the “brothers back home.” “It’s not a crime to be away,” Coretta tells him. Martin and Coretta plan to settle down, buy a nice house and raise a nice family, but events in the South are impossible to ignore. When Annie Lee Cooper tries to register to vote… yet again… she has to pass a test in which the questions keep getting harder until she gets to one she can’t answer. “DENIED,” says the stamp on her application. “Selma is 50% Negro, yet only 2% are able to vote.” As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, King can get an audience with President Johnson, but LBJ finds him exasperating. “He needs to get on board with what we’re doing… not the other way around.” But that said, King is certainly the lesser of the evils… the only one promoting non-violence. Still, LBJ wants to put his War on Poverty first… “This voting thing is gonna have to wait.”

“Selma, it is,” says Martin. It’s the “next great battle… A lot of work’s been done by the people of Selma, and they’re ready.” J. Edgar Hoover wants to “shut him down… permanently,” and he has the means to do it. [The film is punctuated with info from the FBI files.] Selma’s Sheriff Jim Clark “is bad business… he won’t go down without a fight.” “Since we don’t fight,” says Martin… “Guess Selma’s as good a place as any to die.”  (Not everyone appreciates the gallows humor.) However, it’s not bravery that’s going to move civil rights forward. Martin and his “brothers” spend quite a bit of time strategizing… how to use their assets… no social media, after all. “Boycotts, lunch counters, voting rights… one struggle just goes into the next… and the next,” says King in a Sunday sermon. He doesn’t see them as separate struggles… he sees them as the same struggle. “I say no more. Give us the vote. We’re not asking. We’re demanding.” Martin wants to turn the page on previous strategies… “It’s not about raising black consciousness any more. We need to raise white consciousness.”

Selma is indeed the next battlefield. The national news media is finally paying attention, and Sheriff Clark and Governor Wallace are going to make sure they have something to report. Even if you feel you remember this history, Selma is well worth seeing. All too often historic-based movies are long on nostalgic fluff and short on engaging us in an intelligent exploration of issues. Director Ava DuVernay is more known for documentaries than for fiction, and she definitely takes a less fluffy approach. While movie scripts are always culled-down versions of history, Ava DuVernay along with first-time screenwriter Paul Webb have given us a narrative with a smart, well-crafted story… good use of MLK language [The MLK family didn't license the actual speeches.] and a lot to think about. At the core is the question of what it takes to change laws and make things work better. (… An issue that hasn’t lost any relevance.) British actor David Oyelowo is a near-perfect MLK… in both looks and mannerisms… an astonishing performance. (Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ misses the mark by a bit.) Even though we know the history, the film has plenty of suspense. It’s easy to forget that the outcome wasn’t assured; the path wasn’t at all clear. “Eyes on the prize, Martin,” says Ralph Abernathy. “Yeah, but what’s the prize?” Martin asks himself. MLK may have had a dream, but he had to work out the details “piece by piece… rock by rock.”

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

The events of the Selma chapter of the civil rights struggle

Popcorn Profile

Rated: PG-13
Audience: Young Adults & Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production 
Nutshell: Civil rights struggle
Language: True to life 
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking

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