MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Ava DuVernay. Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson.
Time marches on and with its passage comes the inevitable 50-year anniversaries of landmark historical events. While we have been able to commemorate and honor the end of World War II, the battle for equality in America is still going strong. Selma is a snapshot of the events that took place shortly after the passage in Congress of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. While this landmark ruling outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the resistance to recognize this act – primarily by making voter registration a genuine hardship for persons of color as well as the poor – had the potential to bring equality to a grinding halt.
Selma tells the story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s (Oyelowo) effort to move the country forward, reminding us of the courage and political savvy necessary to make change happen in spite of all odds. Dr. King had to deal not only with the police brutality that would attack public displays of nonviolent resistance (as well as the critics against this strategy), but also with the wiretapping conducted by J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. (no fans of Dr. King), and the pressure placed on his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) and their family.
King also had to figure out how to work with the other participants in the campaign for human rights with their own agendas and timelines. President Lyndon Johnson (Wilkinson) – a key architect of The Civil Rights Act – is ready to declare his War on Poverty and sees that as a higher priority than voting rights. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee including John Lewis (Stephan James) and James Forman (Trai Byers) becomes divided over how to move ahead. Selma reminds us that even if a cause is a good one, there are always a variety of opinions about the best way to move ahead, often leading to conflict.
And there are other forces at work. Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), misunderstood and considered threatening, continues to worry America. And openly racist Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) is willing to summon up law enforcement to keep the protestors in their place.
Selma has a lot of ground to cover in two hours, as it leads up to the 50-mile protest march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to the state capital in Montgomery, Alabama. We see the Christian faith of Dr. King (who was always first of all a preacher) as well as the courage of hundreds of persons of all colors who risked their lives in events that would eventually lead to The Voting Rights Act of 1965.
David Oyelowo is outstanding as Dr. King (he is forced to deliver paraphrases of key speeches since Dr. King’s estate would not allow direct quotes to be used) and the entire cast is great. Selma is a gripping history lesson, highlighted in an early and painful scene in which Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) is denied the right to vote.
The movie suffers a bit from the limits of digital camera work, with many underlit scenes a particular visual annoyance. But many of the crowd scenes are stirring and the integrity of the filmmakers in presenting a balanced account is to be commended.
Human rights around the world continue to be at risk. May Selma inspire us to take a stand for all of God’s children as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Five halos: A stirring reenactment of America’s long journey towards civil rights for all persons.
Four pitchforks: For bigotry, violence, intimations of adultery, violation of civil rights, swearing (with at least 3 F-bombs – a record for a PG-13 movie).
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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