Review of 'Selma'

selma.jpg Selma recreates the events surrounding the town of Selma, Alabama in 1965 where it became the focus of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s (David Oyelowo) black rights peaceful protest against the local government's institutional racism in specifically denying the local black people the right to vote despite it being their legal right to do so. When a sit in results in violence King and the local black community agree that a peaceful march from Selma to the Alabama capital Montgomery would show their solidarity and resolve. When the march is brutally suppressed the news shocks the nation with a huge number of supporters - black and white - descending on Selma to join their protest. In Washington US president Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) struggles to find a way to resolve the situation, caught as he is between a bigoted governor and a stubborn activist. At stake is the stability of the entire country.

An incredibly powerful and moving film about the struggle for human rights in 1960s America that manages to at once show the focus and meaning of the struggle but also the difficulty the president had in reconciling the situation in a country so deeply divided. Indeed, a shock here is how compassionate Johnson his to the human rights he knows are being violated but being unable to act without dire consequences on one side or the other.

David Oyelowo is truly astounding as Dr. King who is torn between putting people in harm's way and the cause he knows is right. Here we see a human, not a saint, with human problems including his troubled marriage. Thankfully the film does not shy away from these details keeping us focused and more grounded in what must have been the reality of the day. Oyelowo is riveting and utterly compelling every minute he is on the screen with his incredibly powerful oratorical skills yet equally powerful emotional portrayal of a man who knows the weight of history is on his shoulders. Carmen Ejogo as King's wife Coretta is equally torn knowing she should support her husband yet hurt at his betrayal of their relationship. As the president Tom Wilkinson manages to show us the conflict he faced through his eyes as he struggles to do the best for his country, taking his responsibility very seriously and above any personal feelings he might have. The supporting cast including the racist police chief and the local bigots chillingly and convincingly bring their hate to the screen in a way that, sadly, completely convinces. Their dispassionate reasoning that the protesters are not people but misbehaving animals that need to be taught a lesson…

The look of the film is utterly believable with the era perfectly evoked on the screen. With much of it filmed outside there was a lot for the filmmakers to do to recreate the look and feel of what life must have been like in Selma at the time with the “white only” signs and the reactions of the average white residents (not just the extremist racist groups) to the events unfolding around them. It is as if we are there with the often horrific acts of personal violence of the time. Indeed, the violence here is not hidden away but laid bare for all to see in explicit, visceral detail. This is not a film where you can stay impartial to the events it depicts. The utter humanity of the film is clear for all to see.

A moving and powerful film depicting problems and issues of a time we like to think is long gone but in recent months appears to be still just simmering beneath the surface. Difficult at times to watch this is a film of passion that is well worth your time.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2020-06-20

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Studio: Pathé

Year: 2014

Length: 128 minutes

Genre: Melodrama