Dir: Ava DuVerney
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Lorraine Toussaint, Martin Sheen, Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, Alessandro Nivola, Giovanni Ribisi, Wendell Pierce, Common, Keith Stanfield, and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Selma, Alabama is the location of the events in director Ava DuVerney’s exceptional and confident film about a small, in the vast continuing struggle, yet significant moment in the civil rights movement. The film centers on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the few months leading up to the 50-mile march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, an event that influenced the Voting Rights Act. Deadly violence, political obstruction, and nationally televised media exposure defined the protest. “Selma” limits the scope of events, focusing less on the entirety of achievements accomplished by Dr. King during his life and instead emphasizing on the actions during a crucial hour in the mission for civil rights that defined Dr. King’s peaceful, determined character.
The film begins just after Dr. King accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Still in the midst of the battle for civil rights Dr. King, played eloquently dignified by David Oyelowo, is portrayed as a respected leader but also a stretched husband, joking friend, faith-filled minister, and flawed human being. Whether the quiet moments when doubt weighs heavy on his mind, the intimate moments when the struggles of his fame and ambition create stress in his marriage, or the crowded moments when his overwhelming poise bolsters every strategic step, Ms. DuVerney paints a portrait of a multifaceted man. However, along with the great narrative portrayal of Dr. King, the film excellently handles the challenges of historically depicting the boiling pot sentiments of the time. This is especially accomplished considering the events are so recently remembered and building in the tension, anger, and despair that existed within the societal and political divisions could potential cause the film to lose the emotional stronghold, however that doesn’t happen here. Ms. DuVerney boldly guides these aspects with precision and expertise.
“Selma” is about Dr. King but it is equally about the civil rights movement. Even though the film only displays a few months during the 1960’s in the lives of directly and indirectly influential individuals within the movement, there is still a palpable connection to the lives and struggles of the past and present. It’s impossible to ignore the correlation between the themes in “Selma” and current events involving race issues in America. It was complicated, concerning, and divisive then just as it is now. Ms. DuVerney doesn’t need to reprimand or forcefully imply, instead the events in their succinct and straightforward depiction are enough to fuel the emotional connection for the viewer. It is simply accomplished filmmaking.
“Selma” crafts a compelling portrait of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a man conflicted and motivated by the changes occurring from his leadership. Moreso, Ms. DuVernay displays one of the best portrayals of the civil rights movement through political structures and the democracy of the people that helped promote change. Even in the midst of racially charged events prompting violent debates, “Selma” displays the brutality found in history but it also exhibits the overwhelming presence of peace promoted by Dr. King and the importance of the lives of all people of every race both immediate and for future populations.
4.50 out of 5.00