Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review of SELMA: Prejudice and Pride

February 22, 2015

"Selma" tells of a crucial time of the Civil Rights movement that took place during the life of Martin Luther King in the 1960s, when people of color faced in trying to register to vote in the segregated south. It showed the resistance of the white majority in the persons of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Alabama governor George Wallace to grant this vital right. A march from Selma to Montgomery was planned as a non-violent protest was met with violent resistance by the white authorities. This "Bloody Sunday" atrocity was broadcast on national television triggering more attention and sympathy for King's cause.

For a younger non-American watching and unfamiliar with how the events really went in real life, the story was very neatly told by writer Paul Webb and director Ava DuVernay. In the powerful first sequence, as Dr. King was receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, a Baptist church for blacks was bombed and a lady Annie Lee Cooper was denied her right to register to vote in Alabama. We would witness scenes of quiet tension, like the frustrating meetings between King and Pres. Johnson to arguments between King and his wife Coretta. However, the scenes of racial violence were more memorably disturbing.

It is interesting that for a film about recent American history, the four main characters were played by British actors. David Oyewolo played Dr. King. Carmen Ejogo played Coretta Scott King. Tom Wilkinson played Pres. Johnson. Tim Roth played Gov. Wallace. I personally felt all the performances were powerfully on point as the script required. But again, since I am not familiar with the actual personalities in real life, I would not be able to judge on the accuracy of their portrayals of these people.

There have been several films about the Civil Rights Movement, and this would count as one of the best I have seen, up there with "Mississippi Burning." This one had a more authentic look and sound to it. With "Selma", director Ava Duvernay has created an elegant masterpiece of storytelling, making a series of unjust events that happened in just a single small town in Alabama resound meaningfully to audiences all over the world. 8/10.

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