Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
A curious thought popped into my head while I watched “Selma”, has there ever been a movie about the late, great, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? None came to mind and after doing a simple Internet search after the movie, it appears that no mainstream motion picture has attempted to tackle such an arduous task. And even though his life was only 39 years long, there’s so much storied history to attempt to adapt, it seems like an almost impossible feat to cherry pick the nuggets that are worth portraying. “Selma” does an admirable job finding the right event that parallels the present day struggles.
“Selma” places it’s microscope over 1965, dropping us in Selma, Alabama. The main flare up for controversy is voter registration. Anytime an African-American would attempt to register to vote, they were met insanely hard tests, economic/financial pressure, and of course, the looming threat of violence from residents and the Ku Klux Klan. While there is a civil rights movement, it’s very weak, quiet, and disorganized. Enter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Oyelowo).
King’s presence gives a clearer focus to the angry groups of black people, which seemingly make up a decent percent of the town. The temptation of giving up or simply raising an angry fist to their oppressors is quelled by the soothing words of King. The scenes that work best is when King’s comforting a family mourning the loss of a loved one or withholding aggressive words in diplomatic discussions with President Lyndon Johnson.
Oyelowo gracefully handles King as best one could. Those famous words we all know from King (the “I Have a Dream” speech) are lacking from this movie, but in it’s place are some powerful, stirring calls for action and Oyelowo combines strength and determination while balancing humility. It’s a difficult task to come off so true to King’s persona, but Oyelowo does it. It helps that he has a fine cast surrounding him, including Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, and others who I am sure will have a future in Hollywood.
“Selma” would not have worked as a straight biopic, but works magnificently as a focus on grassroots activism. It does get a bit muddled when adding the subplot of King’s relationship with his wife. It also doesn’t help when it keeps cutting to gratuitous shots of Oprah Winfrey’s incredibly minor character. Of course when you’re one of the film’s producers, you can be on screen as much as you want. “Selma” is just a progressive step short of taking the stage with other grand movies, but I’m sure it’ll still gladly take a heaping plate of nominations.
As for it’s message, you’ll either get it or you won’t. And if you do get it, you’ll love it or you won’t. That’s perfectly fine though because whether you want to admit it or not, there’s still a big problem when it comes to equality and oppression. I’m not here to make a political statement or stand up on any soap box, but there’s something to be said about the powerful imagery featuring peaceful protesters being bashed with batons and chased down police in riot gear.