Directed by Ava DuVernay.
Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, 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.
Watching a film like Selma is no easy feat and someone who catches a glimpse of some of the violence portrayed in it may think they’d seen footage of the Ferguson riots. Instead of a traditional biopic of Martin Luther King, director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb have focussed on a pivotal moment – the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Selma is a powerful film that demonstrates how far we’ve come in terms of racial equality, whilst still highlighting how far we have to go.
Credit has to go to DuVernay and Webb for creating a film that is so unflinching in its brutality. Several scenes of beating and violence are truly horrifying to behold; these are then juxtaposed with tender moments that show the best in humanity. By creating this balancing act, both writer and director have made a film that is more than your average biopic.
Taking the helm is David Oyelowo as King. Put simply his performance is tremendous. From his deep tone of voice that is almost spot on, to his mannerisms and physical presence that fills the screen. Much has been said about Selma’s snub at the Oscar’s and I have to agree that it deserved a lot more recognition, particularly Oyelowo who embodies King completely. He delivers each carefully rewritten speech (copyright issues prevented King’s actual speeches being used) with such gusto and feeling that you feel liberated along with him and his comrades.
The supporting cast all give great performances, especially Common, Roth and Winfrey. They don’t have much to do but their presence on screen speaks volumes. The controversy over the representation of Lyndon B Johnson (Wilkinson) is hard to ignore when watching the film and it does detract slightly from what is otherwise historically accurate. Nevertheless, Wilkinson delivers a solid performance as he always does. It’s just a shame that more attention wasn’t paid to the details of Johnson’s administration at the time.
Selma is shocking, brutal, uplifting and wonderful to watch; but it is far from being perfect. Troubles in King’s marriage are addressed in a particularly tense scene – Carmen Ejogo as Coretta King is on top form – but other than this brilliantly acted exchange, it is never mentioned again. Whilst adding this in may have slowed the pace of the film a little, it is in my opinion vital to understanding the man.
The music of the film is perfectly fitting and the sound mix really hits home every time someone is hit with a club or pushed to the ground. Selma is uncomfortable to watch, but it is an important film that demonstrates an integral part of human history.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Helen Murdoch is a freelance writer – Follow me on Twitter