Selma is a powerful, moving, and unflinching look at the true story of the events in Selma, Alabama in 1965 during which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement were working to get legislation passed that would ban the laws, known as Jim Crow laws in the Southern states, that disenfranchised black voters because they disproportionately affected them. Those laws included poll taxes that the poor couldn’t afford, having to have a voucher from an already registered voter before they could register, and laws that said when they registered to vote, their name and address had to be published in the newspaper, leaving them open to harassment or worse from the KKK. This movie is visceral in its portrayal of the violent retaliation against the peaceful protests, including the deaths that occurred during this time. Those include the four little girls killed when their church was bombed; a young black church deacon, shot and killed by a state trooper during a peaceful march while he was trying to protect his mother from a policeman’s baton; a white unitarian minister in Selma for the march, beaten and killed by white racists; and the death of a white woman who was killed by the KKK for the crime of marching with and driving home afterwards, fellow black marchers. It culminates in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama that began with about 3,200 marchers, black and white, in Selma and ended five days later in Montgomery by which time there were 25,000 marchers and where Dr. King gave a speech on the steps of the state capitol. Shortly thereafter, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
Selma was directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Carmen Ejogo as Corretta Scott King. Tom Wilkerson plays President Lyndon B. Johnson and Tim Roth plays Alabama governor George Wallace. David Oyelowo is excellent as Dr. King. He has the cadences of his speech, the way he moved, his quiet authority and his fiery speech making down to a tee. Carmen Ejogo is also excellent as Mrs. King, having to deal with the death threats not only against her husband but also against her children and herself, as well as Dr. King’s long absences and reputed affairs. This movie touches on all of that and the tensions it placed on their marriage, but also the obvious love they had for each other. Selma has a very large cast that includes all of Dr. King’s peers, and all the supporting players in this true life drama from the FBI to judges to clergy to everyday folks whose lives were impacted by these events, and there is not a sour note in the bunch. It is one of the most well acted movies I’ve ever seen. The 60’s era costumes, set dressings, cars and locations were spot on.
The thing that I can’t stop thinking about however, is how much is still to be done. Because racism is institutionalized and almost blind in this country. But mostly about the rich and powerful who use propaganda to keep black against white against brown against gay against woman against anyone or anything “other” in order to keep our eyes away from their pillaging of wealth from the bottom to the top. As Dr. King said in his speech on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, “They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; they segregated southern churches from Christianity; they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; and they segregated the Negro from everything. That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would prey upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw through the propaganda, refused to be deterred from speaking out and ultimately was murdered in order to shut him up. Sometimes I despair that enough people will wake up and take back their rights from the vultures who want everything. But movies like this, that remind us of the struggle, the reasons for those struggles, the values we hold dear, and those who were willing to give everything so that we can all someday live in peace and dignity and plenty, give me hope that enough people remember, enough people care, and enough people will keep speaking out so that sometime in the not so distant future Dr. King’s dream may come to pass.