Big Screen: Selma

I went to a screening of the movie Selma with my friend Mandy last week (she had passes and I was lucky enough to tag along!). I was a HUGE fan, and was surprised they didn't take more Golden Globes home, but, the categories where Selma is strong are tough categories this year--I think lead male actor is one of the toughest groups in a long time. I can't believe this is the first biopic of MLK to be made into a movie.

If you don't know the story of Selma, this is a great introduction. Selma is a little town in Alabama that was one of the lynch pins in the Civil Rights movement. Let me set the scene: In a town nearby, 4 little girls were killed in their church when a bomb went off (spoiler that I don't feel bad about: in the first 5 minutes, you see these girls die, it's hard. Prepare yourself.). In Selma (as in many places pre-Civil Rights movement), there were rules and hurdles that made it very difficult for black people to register to vote (which also means they couldn't be on juries). Many places still made black people use different doors, they casually enforced separate but equal and the white leaders were (most) often vehemently against both change and black people having a voice. Martin Luther King and his association came to Selma hoping to enact change, and this story follows what they did there. It also strives to portray these heros and larger than life characters as just humans, it shows that they're not perfect but that they were able to affect great change. It shows the turbulence with the SNCC as they butt heads about the best way to move forward.

The audience was primed and ready for this movie. The theater was packed. When two white preachers from Boston are "interviewed" when they join the march, the audience clapped and cheered (we watched it in Boston). Overall, I thought this movie was really well done. It told the story relatively accurately and is bringing a really important story in the US' history to light.

The acting in this movie was really wonderful. David Oyelowo (Oh-yello-whoa), as MLK was really impressive. He truly embodied the man. At times, especially one specific shot where the camera pans the bridge up to MLK, he looked exactly like MLK for a little bit. When he gave speeches, it felt like he was really giving them--particularly when he's giving the Eulogy for Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black teenager killed by the police. When the march to Montgomery is marred by intense violence, and MLK marches again and ends up turning back, you really saw his struggle, but struggled to understand it at the same time.

Carmen Ojogo played Coretta Scott King and was amazing. She was strong, smart, beautiful, realistic (when she talked about not giving their children what she'd like to give them just b/c it would look bad, I could understand that inner struggle), and ultimately wonderful. The movie inferred that their relationship was not perfect, that MLK cheated on his wife.

The supporting cast was good--I thought Oprah did a great job playing Annie Lee Cooper. Lorrainne Toussaint as Amelia Boynton was interesting--she did a great job, I just wanted a little more of her story. I'm not quite sure how she fit in. Henry G. Sanders as Cager Lee was really affecting. The scene where he stands in front of the morgue and MLK comes to pay his respects was quiet, gracious, and thoughtful. Tim Roth was totally repulsive as Alabama Governor George Wallace, but he never interacted with a black person on screen and I wish he had. I think I could have hated him even more after seeing that.Common as James Bevel was really memorable, but many of the men surrounding MLK got a little muddled for me--I wasn't sure who was who until the end when they showed follow-up notes about some of the characters (I wanted more of those!) and even then, was still unsure about some of the supporting cast.

Overall, I really appreciated this film and highly recommend it. I think it's a must-see.

Footnote: There's a bit of a controversy with the movie. The depiction of LBJ in general. I thought this was probably accurate--it's a little bit trumped up about the whole LBJ being the devil, thing. “The real story wasn’t about a president who didn’t want voting rights,” he said. “It was about a president who couldn’t get them through. And it was the civil rights movement that made that possible.” I'm not dwelling on it or letting it influence my good opinion of the movie.


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