Tonight was Best Picture Nominated movie night. With only two of the eight so honored films left to see, I brought home Selma, which released on DVD earlier this month. I was aware of the general story behind the movie…a look at visionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, during a three month time span, as he led a campaign to secure equal voting rights for all. What I didn’t expect was the illumination into the heart of the man behind the famous speeches and the unrelenting fight for equality.
Selma stars David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Andre Holland, Dylan Baker, and Tim Roth. It was directed by Ava DuVernay. This biographical drama is rated PG-13 for violence and brief, strong language and has a run time of 2 hours and 8 minutes. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Song for “Glory”, for which it won an Oscar.
Selma is the true story around the events in 1965 as King (Oyelowo) organized a march from Selma, AL to the capital of the state, Montgomery. He sought peace, and organized non-violent demonstrations and marches, all with the purpose of raising the awareness and consciousness of the nation to the inequality rampant in the south. From discussions and negotiations with President Johnson (Wilkinson) to direct opposition to the governor of Alabama, George Wallace (Roth), King never wavered in his desire to see his brothers and sisters allowed to carry out their legal right to vote.
As the tensions escalated in the south, King faced tension at home as well, as his patient wife, Coretta (Ejogo), quietly supports his campaign while constantly facing the agnozing possibility of his death. Understandably, there is a part of her that wants a normal life with her husband and children. Knowing that is not her husband’s path, she joins him in the famous march from Selma to Montgomery.
She is not the only one to march beside this man with the incredible vision and dream. After the first attempted march ends in vicious attacks and injury, turning the marchers back to Selma, conscientious people from all over the country arrive in the small town at the center of the nation’s attention. Many of them were clergymen and women, and people of all colors linked arms and marched yet again. This second attempt was not opposed, however, King, not liking what he sensed and fearing for the lives of his fellow marchers, turned back.
Twelve days later, the large, peaceful crowd, with the sanction of the President, left Selma for the third time, arriving in the state capital four days later. The marchers grew to number 25,000 by the time they reached the capitol building. King triumphed. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
What a powerful movie, about a man of deep conviction, who learned how to harness passion and drive and create change, while maintaining a non-violent stance. I’ve listened to King’s speeches. This is a historical person who lived…and died…during my childhood. I knew the basics about him and his dream of seeing his children live in a nation that judged others not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I was very impressed with actor David Oyelowo’s portrayal of King as a man who battled doubt, sometimes, and lived surrounded by the fog of death, as he called it. He seemed to foresee an early exit for himself, but persevered, all for the sake of others, with the hope that equality would become available for all. There was depth within him, strength and fear, determination and the weight of world.
It was interesting to realize how much King was watched by the government, his phone lines and home tapped, he and his team and allies under constant surveillance. The country was watching King, and apparently so were the leaders of the country. For all his non-violent ways, King was seen as a threat, because he championed all of mankind and proposed change, fighting for what he believed in.
I dislike injustice and prejudice of any kind. My heart clinched over every beating and death portrayed in the film. I am appalled at how slowly change has occurred and how easily old ways of thinking rise up again and again. The movie ended several years before King’s assassination, as he completed his speech on the steps of the capitol building. The camera focused on face after face, as he spoke, words appearing on the screen that foretold the fate and destiny of each major character. I silently cheered for those who became statesmen and congressmen and one who voted for the first time at the age of 84. And felt sorrow for those who died too young, defending what they most deeply believed in.
This film certainly deserved its Best Picture nomination, and it deserves a careful viewing by every one interested in equality and the betterment of all people. I finished the movie with tears in my eyes and gratitude for those who fight for the rights and freedom of others, including Martin Luther King, Jr. He once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” A great question to ponder.