Movie Review: Selma

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CAST

David Oyelowo – Martin Luther King Jr.

Carmen Ejogo – Coretta Scott King

Oprah Winfrey – Annie Lee Cooper

Tom Wilkinson – President Lydon B. Johnson

Common – James Bevel

Wendell Pierce – Rev. Hosea Williams

Giovanni Ribisi – Lee White

 

Director: Ava DuVernay

Duration: 128 Minutes

Release Date:  06-02-2015

Genre – Drama

 

Selma is a small town in lower west Alabama, where the eyes of America turned nervously in the spring of 1965, sensing a revolution. It was hardly a hotbed of racial unrest. It wasn’t Harlem. It was the strategic site of a battle, a historic march for voting rights, and a bitter but long-awaited victory for Martin Luther King in his ongoing fight for democratic parity.

What he’s up against isn’t just the hard-dying legacy of racism in the South, but an administration fobbing him off with “not now”. The issue at hand is the black vote – legally guaranteed by the Constitution, but practically stymied by all the literacy tests and intentionally obstructive registration rules local government had managed to pile up in its path. In the early Sixties, more than half of Selma’s citizens were black, but only 1% were registered to vote.

Oprah Winfrey (Annie Lee Cooper) is turned away at the film’s start for failing to name Alabama County’s 67 judges. And because registration was a requirement to serve on juries, black people had no say in their own trials, and brutality against them went unavenged by the justice system time and again.

King explains all this in the Oval Office to Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), but it’s no good: the latter is busily embroiled in Vietnam, and extends a welcoming arm across King’s back which tells us exactly how he plans to patronize and humour him.

Wilkinson’s Jowly Avuncularity can jar in some American films, but this is the best use of him in years. By the end, after the flare-ups in Selma have made it impossible to table the voting issue any longer, we get the irony of LBJ’s March 1965 address, whose final three words come straight from King’s phrasebook: “We Shall Overcome”.

When King comforts the grieving grandfather of slain protestor Jimmie Lee Jackson, whom police chased into a café behind Selma’s church, and shot, unarmed, at point-blank range, it’s a scene that’s desperately moving for all it’s holding in, and holding back. You see King as an almost intimidating inspiration – a leader commanding so much respect that grief has to compose itself. But you also see him as a man, especially in close quarters with his wife Coretta (a forceful Carmen Ejogo), who elicits a subtle confession of his extra-marital affairs.

Ava DuVernay, previously responsible for the little-seen features I Will Follow (2011) and the Oyelowo-starring Middle of Nowhere (2012), makes a thrilling surge into the front ranks of American filmmakers here. She’s likely to be the first black woman ever nominated for the Best Director Oscar.

Working again with consistently inspired cinematographer Bradford Young (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and Editor Spencer Averick, she reconstructs Selma’s whole tug of war – bludgeoning outside the courthouse, the two marches across Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the terrifying rampages of mounted police, glimpsed through a fog of tear gas – with a righteous visceral authority. Young’s camera inscribes people’s fury, pain and bewilderment: when Winfrey is knocked to the ground, it goes down with her. DuVernay’s film goes down with the lot of them, drags itself back up, and never lets that summit out of sight.

Culled from, the Telegraph.

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