Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wiilkinson, Giovanni Ribiiisi, Carmen Ejogo, Cuba Gooding Jr, Oprah Winfrey, Common, and Tim Roth
A chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
Stories about Martin Luther King aren’t uncommon, but like with everything else, some stand out far more than others. Selma is one such case, for it is a racially and politically charged biopic full of vivid violent imagery that is sure to haunt viewers, and an emotionally gripping performance from David Oyelowo as the spiritual civil rights movement leader.
While he doesn’t match Martin Luther King in size or accurately sound like him, Oyelowo is able to encapsulate everything we have learned from our history courses into one unforgettable performance. Even though the speeches written for the film were specifically drafted because of a dispute with rights to use the actual historical speeches, Oyelowo delivers lines and passages with a commanding voice that is sure to incite those watching the movie just as much as the protesters. Of course, much credit has to go to writer Paul Webb and director Ava DuVernay for whipping up new speeches that match the messages and and purpose of King’s plight. If those didn’t come across as in tune with such a revered historical figure’s thoughts and stances the movie would have suffered greatly.
The direction of Ava DuVernay is one that marks her on the top of her game, and not just for coaching Oyelowo to a mesmerizing performance, but for her unwillingness to flinch when depicting brutality. One segment in particular will have everyone talking, as it is essentially the epitome of unnecessary cruel violence towards one another, for no reason other than the color of skin.. Furthermore,, that scene is the backbone of the film; something you know is looming around the corner that you will undoubtedly have trouble watching, but a necessary piece of evil meant to propel the remainder of the story into the greater good. If this scene was watered down and meant to be more family-friendly, the entire movie loses the majority of its emotional punch.
Selma also does a surprisingly unique job at making some of the smaller and more irrelevant characters pop out as important. With very minimal screen time it is with great credit to Ava DuVernay that many of her surrounding sub-plots naturally blend into the core story, and by extension make it even more compelling. The only real mishap here is that a lot of Martin Luther King’s marital relationship feels underdeveloped, never quite connecting on an emotional level as probably intended.
There’s also the portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson by Tom Wilkinson that has had much criticism tossed its way. While I don’t agree that Lyndon B. Johnson was made out to be an over-exaggerated racist, there are numerous smaller antagonists throughout the film that are drawn up in the most stereotypical fashion possible. Most notably is a scene where two Alabamians with the most redneck sounding accent you could think of, kill a pair of white men just for supporting the movement. There are quite a few characters in Selma that just feel like caricatures of Southern life, which does unfortunately paint the movie as a bit one-sided. It’s not too distracting but something that feels like it should have been avoided.
I also want to give a small shoutout to Common and John Legend, as their closing credits song “Glory” is lyrically strong and is filled to the brim with all the themes Selma represents. It is a foregone conclusion that Selma will be nominated for a lot of awards, and this deserves to be one.
Like most biopics regarding heated racial tension in the 60s, Selma can be a bit challenging to watch. It places the blame at our feet and asks us how and why humanity could be so cruel to one another, but through watching it and accepting that blame we become stronger as human beings. The only sad part is that Selma can still today be seen as socially relevant, which just goes to show us that there is still work to be done.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. He currently writes for Flickering Myth, We Got This Covered, and Wrestle Enigma. Follow me on Twitter.