This will likely be my last major review of a 2014 release, while some smaller reviews will be posted in a collection later on.
The year was 1965 when Martin Luther King Jr. led the march from Selma to Montgomery in the state of Alabama, in a campaign for African-American men and women to have equal voting rights. In that period of time, tensions were heated, blood was shed, and in the end, justice ultimately prevailed.
And yet, in spite of the progression and much more welcoming environment in the years since, when we really reanalyze the words of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, how close have we actually come to fully realizing the equality he wanted all men to have? This is merely one of the many fascinating aspects present in Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a biographical film of the historical march, and hands down one of the greatest and most searing films of the year.
Very much in the same vein of something like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, while the film of course puts much focus on the central character of King, the screenplay by Paul Webb wisely and methodically gives more attention to the march and its general effects, looking in great detail at the central figures involved with the movement, and the attitudes of both racial divides. The whole film is uncompromisingly brutal in its approach, with DuVernay not shying away from the grizzly repercussions and necessary evils of the movement, and in spite of the current modern movie age where characters are gunned down and beaten without us batting an eye during mindless action flicks, the violence of this film is much more meaningful and disturbing, and editor Spencer Averick isn’t afraid to let you feel every gut-wrenching impact, especially during the raid on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Of course, that’s not to say that Dr. King plays second fiddle. Far from it, as David Oyelowo gives a tremendous and commanding central performance. Recreating King’s mannerisms and speeches to flawless effect, Oyelowo also avoids portraying him as a two-dimensional cardboard cutout, and that while he may be an inspirational figure, he is still human, and flawed. With so many potential risks at play, this movie is smart to analyze all of the moral questions that come with a movement of this scale, and the expectations of carrying it on one’s shoulders. King wishes to keep the protest non-violent, but this is easier said than done, as the tensions teeter over the edge, with some of those involved in the march almost succumbing to the same violent nature of the abusive county lawmen. It takes true strength to rise above that anger and hatred, and it’s accomplished here and appropriately showcased through Oyelowo without feeling the need to dumb it down.
Selma’s timeliness is also a great virtue to it, and actually makes it an essential historical representation. As said before, with the attitudes over controversial issues such as those in Ferguson and the BART station in Fruitvale, we still haven’t fully lived up to King’s virtues and teachings, something that will get worse if future generations fall victim to the same misguided mentalities. As said in “Glory”, John Legend’s end credits song to the film, “One day, when the war is won, we will be sure.”
***** / *****