By STEPHANIE SUN
Selma stands up as an inspiring depiction of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during an urgent and crucial time of his movement. Rather than taking on the unfeasible task of capturing all of the leader’s work, director Ava DuVernay, also known for her work on Middle of Nowhere, focuses on a three-month period in 1965 when the movement marched from Selma to Montgomery to urge President Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act.
Zeroing in on a major part of the civil rights movement created an intensity that showed the real day-to-day struggles of the activists. King (David Oyelowo) is joined with other civil rights leaders including James Bevel (Common), John Lewis (James Bevel) and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) to plan the historic march that drew media attention to their cause and persuaded President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to abandon the slow legislative process of passing a bill for voting rights. The movie also features Oprah Winfrey, who, as well as co-produce the film, portrayed Selma resident Annie Lee Cooper.
DuVernay does an excellent job; the movie is filled with beautiful, honest scenes. She does not shy away from depicting the violent attacks the civil rights activists endured for their non-violent cause. The film also features a few quiet scenes in which King is portrayed not as the larger-than-life myth, but as a struggling visionary complete with self-doubts and uncertainties.
In Selma, President Johnson chooses to prioritize his War on Poverty over the Voting Rights Act King proposes. Many have criticized the film’s depiction of the president, asserting that he was eager to help the cause instead of trying to delay it. In response, DuVernay (@AVAETC) said on Twitter, “Notion that Selma was LBJ’s idea is jaw dropping and offensive to SNCC, SCLC and black citizens who made it so.”
Mina Rhee (Jr.) said, “I thought the movie was really powerful emotionally, and the song at the end, which tied the film to present day events, was really nice.” The film’s original song, by John Legend featuring Common, the only other Oscar nomination the film received besides Best Picture, “Glory,” made a specific reference to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the heightened awareness of racial inequalities and police brutality currently in America.
The movie has received great praise, earning a certified 98% freshness from Rotten Tomatoes. Many critics have commended Oyelowo and DuVernay, and even more have been outraged at their lack of Academy Award nominations.
Although 2015 has only just started, Selma is already one of the most powerful movies of the year. It is a reminder of the accomplishments King and past leaders did for this country and what current leaders need to continue to work on.