Director: Ava DuVernay
Writers: Paul Webb
Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Martin Sheen, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey and Cuba Gooding, Jr
Studio: Paramount

“Selma” was supposed to have been reviewed almost three weeks ago on the site. But, I developed bronchitis and nearly lost hearing in my left ear. Life happens. A lot of life happens in three weeks, as this film has gone from late season curiosity to generating an Oscar firestorm. This is one of those films that I debate covering if I missed the target date by a wide margin. Especially since I know that the Brittas of the Internet will latch onto it for the Tumblr crowd. I thought about that for all five minutes and then smiled. Continuing recent themes, let’s look at rewriting history to preserve legends.

Martin Luther King Jr wasn’t a Saint, but he was a political leader that tried amazingly hard to reshape America for the better. He also stood on the backs of far greater men and plagiarized most of his dissertation for his PHD. Due to the fact that the discoveries were made after the tragic end of his life, most sympathetic scholars ruled it as voice merging or unintended appropriation. But, that’s making a lot of assumptions in favor of saving a good name. While not a bad thing, it raises issues of authenticity. Most of “Selma” is pretty authentic, as we get stunning and amazingly staged recreations of the March and the Four Little Girls bombings.

But, this is a film and we need to have defined villains and a struggle. The struggle for racial equality is grand, but it’s hard to boil down centuries of racial strife into a two hour movie. Therefore, the filmmakers chose to take President Johnson and craft moments of his administration into creating a well-meaning monster for adversity. Tim Roth plays George Wallace pretty true to character, but without the emotional reason that came from Gary Sinise’s earlier take on the man. What about MLK and his followers? They are bright hearted men and women bent on saving their brethren from the Deep South that exists somewhere between Hazzard County and a Mother Jones slam piece.

The problem with getting emotion so intertwined with a narrative is that it blinds you to the reality of a situation. There were whites in Alabama that worked with CORE, King and several organizations to help the struggle. But, that would’ve made for a longer film and clouded the narrative that DuVernay and Webb wanted to put onscreen. LBJ, George Wallace and Dr. King aren’t here to defend themselves, so their conflict is left to many groups to decide. I just ask that after watching the film, you research this troublesome time in history and draw your own conclusions. Did you really think I was going to say something conclusive on this film? Well, if you need it…here goes. Bradford Young’s work on cinematography for “Selma” shows a young D.P. that is about to explode to the level of a Conrad Hall or Roger Deakins.


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