Martin Luther King Jr. was such a magnificent figure that for years how to approach making a movie focusing directly on his efforts would be ridiculed if not perfect down to the last detail. But, my friends, that movie exists in “Selma”, a movie so filled with passion that it oozes out of every scene with either a fiery spirit or a refined grace thanks to fearless direction by Ava DuVernay and a spellbinding performance from David Oyelowo.
Focusing on the events that led up to the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed that African Americans could register to vote without interference or prejudice, “Selma” tells a story some may not know that much about versus the famed March on Washington most associate with King.
But this is the story that needs to be told. Voting laws and regulations are all over the place today, some states going as far as to deny those without “proper identification” from voting. Not to get political, but what is depicted in “Selma” and in the history books can’t help but cause one to look at the state of things now—as a good historical bio-pic should do.
DuVernay should be showered with praise for her work here proving women can be as of aggressive of filmmakers as any man. She never allows for the film to step out of the harsh and often haunting light that these events were cast in. The violence is heart-wrenching and brutal as non-violent activists are beaten to a pulp in the city streets of Selma, Alabama.
A certain bridge scene is equally— if not more so than — as effective as any dark thriller at conveying absolute terror. The bridge is cloaked in smoke as police bash men and women while protestors run for their lives. The sounds alone are enough to coil the whole body—but it’s all necessary.
And on the other end is anger and love in the form of Oyelowo’s brilliant portrayal of King. Perfectly embodying King’s demeanor and his articulate Southern drawl, with a hint of a deep rumble, he brings King to live with startling realism. If you were to close your eyes you would say “Hey, who has the MLK video on?” He’s that good.
He is at his best during the many speeches he gives to the somber public. King is most notorious for his manner of speaking. Oyelowo exhibits his combination of call-to-action rage and unmatched wisdom with confidence and poise, making each sentence as gripping as King himself could’ve made them. You wanna rush off to Selma and say “Where’s all the action at?” after hearing him speak.
I can’t imagine a movie like this more passionate and full of inspiration. There is nothing half-assed or dishonest about it. It’s grim, sobering, intense, electrifying and full of love for its subject and what he stood for.
I can’t help but believe that while making the movie everyone involved was thinking about where we are at now in terms of race relations. I’m not going to get political but if the movie will do anything it will cause the audience to think about how far we’ve really come. My answer is not far. Sure we may not be galloping towards people on horses with Billy-clubs, but choking them out on the street for nothing isn’t that much different.
In the end, the important realization about this movie is this: Last Monday we took a day to commemorate the spirit of the magnificent Martin Luther King Jr. The gravity of his work and efforts has created in him an iconic figure that will stand long after we have gone. Now through the beauty of film his actions and struggles have been realized for a new generation who could not even begin to imagine the era which King tried so desperately—and even succeeded— to change. “Selma” sheds light on the man himself and the fact that work he did, though glorious and unforgettable, is nowhere near done. Celluloid for the win!