"Selma"

David Oyelowo stars as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” now playing in area theaters.

Each and every day, many of us take for granted exactly how privileged we are.

No, most of us aren’t rich and swimming in bathtubs of money like Scrooge McDuck, although that would be awesome. I would do it daily. At least twice a day.

The privilege I’m talking about is something many of us don’t even think about. I know I never have. We can vote. Each and every one of us was born with the right and privilege to vote for the lesser of two evils in every single election.

It’s a right that has been hard fought for by the generations before us. If you weren’t a white male property owner, your opinion and voice were meaningless for long periods in our nation’s history.

In 1920, women earned the right to be heard. TECHNICALLY, black men were told they could vote with the adoption of the 15th amendment in 1870. Unfortunately, the country was full of racists and bureaucratic red tape that made the amendment useless for decades to come.

I know, I know, enough with the history lesson. But this history lesson is the story behind an incredibly powerful movie: “Selma.”

Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black citizens of this country were still facing racism and jackassery at every turn. For Martin Luther King Jr., many of these disgraceful actions could be tied to voting. Many blacks faced opposition just getting registered to vote. And, in not being able to vote, they had no way to hold the white public officials, who had no interest in helping the “negroes,” in check.

After failed attempts to spark legislation to correct this wrong, King organized thousands in Selma, Ala., to march on the capital and let their combined voices be heard.

As I said, this film is incredibly powerful. The images and stories we see create a moving experience.

British actor David Oyelowo fills the incredibly big shoes of MLK with Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King at his side. The film smartly delves into the personal lives of the couple and shows that, regardless of the strides King was making nationally, his marriage was getting dented and dinged all over the place.

Oyelowo does a fantastic job, showcasing the range of wide range of emotions King goes through. He portrays a man fighting to stay strong and be a symbol of peace in a world that is seemingly turning against him at every turn.

And, there’s something bittersweet in watching King go through these trials never knowing what day might be his last. Just three years after the Selma march, King’s quest for peace and equality was ended by an assassin’s bullet.

Oyelowo isn’t the only awesome casting choice. I never thought I’d say this, but Tim Roth is kind of amazing as a racist jackass, otherwise known as Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, a required appearance by Oprah Winfrey and way too many people to name round out the cast. There are even some surprise cameos by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Martin Sheen.

But “Selma” doesn’t excel because of the acting. Nor is it the history behind the film. What makes “Selma” a truly fine film is the imagery we see. Watching a little girl talk with friends moments before a bomb explodes next to her is horrific and a punch to the gut. Seeing marchers face off against angry police, all involved holding their breath, is tense for the audience as well. And of course, seeing and feeling each blow land as bigotry and hatred boil over and give way to violence.

I’m not a fool, though. Director Ava DuVernay — who was nominated for a Golden Globe but overlooked by the Academy — knows the power of each and every image she shows in the film. The blood that flows. The men, women and children, both white and black, that fall to the ground, writhing in pain as every kick and punch is delivered. The footage shown of the actual march filmed 50 years ago. All of this imagery is meant to strike a chord and deliver a punch to the gut.

But it’s not a narrative shortcut, something to manipulate the audience’s emotions. It’s an honest way to deliver emotional message that each of us needs to see. While the film may be based on events that happened 50 years ago, anyone who believes racism, hatred and bigotry has been eradicated from this country, despite admittedly great strides, is fooling themselves.

I’ve heard some say that “Selma” isn’t historically accurate. Many have raised a fuss about the portrayal of then-president Lyndon B. Johnson and the antagonistic relationship with King seen in the film. The facts may be blurry, but I’m curious what historical film isn’t tainted a bit by the bias of a writer, director or producer or narrative requirements to deliver its message.

Regardless of its flaws, “Selma” is an experience in the truest sense of the word. You will leave this one feeling as bloodied and bruised as the poor marchers who sought to correct one of the worst moments in American history.

Amanda Greever is the assistant managing editor and film critic for The Daily Times. Contact her at 981-1161 or at amandag@thedailytimes.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.