Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Lorraine Toussaint, Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey
It's rare that a movie's release works out during such a topical time. In the midst of current race relation protests and civil unrest, Selma seems like a movie built to enhance a movement. But, handled so honestly and delicately by director Ava DuVernay, Selma should be seen as more of a respectable commentary on how far we've come, rather than an input on where we currently find ourselves.
Constructed around the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, Selma covers ground not yet seen in this capacity regarding the late Martin Luther King Jr. (Oyelowo). We meet him first during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, already an established figures in the movement and a respected man by presidents and leaders across many nations. His seeming comfortable around President Johnson (Wilkinson) shows that the two have developed a repertoire with each other. King is a noble leader, bent on crusading to make change, not crusading to start or continue a war. This is key in every inch of his decision making. When black voters' rights are mostly denied in Selma, Alabama, King steps in to help move things along, inciting a march from the small southern town to the state's capital, Montgomery. The first attempt at a march is met with violence and fear as the local and state authorities meet them on the other side of the bridge and are everything other than welcoming to their efforts. This display of force enthralls thousands from across the nation of all different races and creeds to join in the next march.
Selma isn't afraid to portray honest characters. DuVernay is careful to never shy away from giving King human traits, like his rumored extramarital affairs. Even the strongest falter from time to time. There's also an honesty in the presence of President Johnson, a man who struggled with a presidential identity, made very clear by his back and forth. The film showcases many character cameos from people whose names would become synonymous with the movement: George Wallace, Annie Lee Cooper, Diane Nash, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and John Lewis. DuVernay worked best at her casting choices. The two most notable picks are in Oyelowo as King and Ejogo as Coretta Scott King. The two actors, both English, evoke subtleties that are on the nose. Beyond just looking the part, they also put forth two great performances. The movie magic of creating places in history is alive and well, also. Settings and scenery feel pulled from the pages of history books.
If there is a lesson to be learned from Selma, it's that freedom and liberty are important and the fight for those only comes through sustained respect, not negative force. King didn't set out to burn buildings, loot businesses, or hurt other people. Instead, he set out to unite a country that was seemingly divided. There are moments in Selma that are shocking and difficult to watch. Hopefully DuVernay's addition to the social commentary can be one of positivity and not stirring up of anger or hate.
Runtime: 127 minutes