Selma – Film Review by S. Guttman

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Selma:  a film deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Movie.  Also deserving of an Oscar nomination is David Oyelowo for his remarkable portrayal of Dr. King.  This film focuses on the events which lead to the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and as depicted,  the march was a seminal event in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The film is not, however, simply a documented recitation of events.  The historic figures are presented as real people with real lives.

Selma opens with Dr. King and his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) shortly before accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; and there are additional scenes showing the dynamics of the King family.  We see the stark reality of the times and the issue of voting rights.  There is a powerful scene in which Oprah Winfrey submits her application to vote but is denied because she is unable to name every single county in the State of Alabama.  We’re given a face to connect with the factual reality that in Lowndes County, Alabama, where the majority of the population is African-American, not a single Black person had been allowed to register to vote in 60 years.  We’re also provided with the backstory as to what led to the events in 1965 Selma as well as dramatic footage of the Selma marches.

The film includes many of the major civil rights leadership and does not limit its focus to Dr. King.  As such, it entertains. Director, Ava DuVernay, did a remarkable job and this 127 minute movie deserves more than just Best Movie and Best Original Song nominations.  There is, however a major problem with this film, especially if you know the history of the passage of the Voting Rights Bill:  the screenwriter confuses Lyndon Baines Johnson with John Kennedy.  The movie depicts the Selma campaign as pushing LBJ (played by Tom Wilkinson in an unusually weak performance) into supporting the voting rights legislation.  While Dr. King had to push President Kennedy to move on civil rights legislation, that was certainly not the case with LBJ.  Due to this significant factual misrepresentation, the scenes with Dr. King and LBJ were annoying.  But despite this major historical error, Selma is a film you should see.  The essential act of voting has never been more dramatically shown.


Steven Guttman, Esq.  Blog:

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