Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey
Written by: Paul Webb
Running Time: 128 mins
Release date: 6th February 2015
Selma has already caused a stir as it was snubbed by the Academy Awards, receiving only a Best Picture nomination. Whatever the reason, it does deserve much more than that because Selma is a heart-wrenching, powerful and inspirational movie about an event in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. An event that is as relevant today as it was at the time.
1965 and Dr. Martin Luther King is desperate to change things for the African-American community. He wants them to be given the opportunity to vote, yet he is constantly coming up against a stubborn president Lyndon Johnson. In order to bring his campaign to a larger audience, he travels to Selma, Alabama, where he arranges a peaceful march to neighbouring town Montgomery. However, he faces racial tension from the local politicians.
It would have been so easy to have made a biopic of King’s life, yet he did so much in his time that it would have felt rushed. So by choosing a single event, the film allows us to get to the heart of the story and the effects that it had on human rights. Director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb try to capture every angle: the politics, the effects it had on family, King’s supporters and a larger community and, of course, the actions that occurred. It does go out to shock and without going into too much graphic detail, you feel every baton as it comes crashing down on the marchers.
What’s more, watching the historical events unfold on-screen, you wonder just how far we have come since those days. King wanted something as simple as a vote, yet he came face to face with police using violence to stop them, brutally attacking the unarmed, non-violent protesters. Makes you think about what has been happening in the United States in recent months.
DuVernay allows room for the story to unfold without forcing the point. She lets us into the lives of the characters, showing us how it affects them. For example, King’s family constantly receiving threatening phone calls that drives his wife to paranoia. The young marchers who want the same thing but in different ways. More heart-breaking, the supporters who face a cruel act of violence that will have you in tears. Thankfully, DuVernay doesn’t overplay the sentimentality, doesn’t throw in too much heavy-handed music score. She allows you to make your own mind up.
As you would expect, the performances are exceptional. Tom Wilkinson is perfectly craggy as President Lyndon Johnson, a man who refused to listen to King, having his own political agenda, never knowing the power that King really had. Carmen Ejogo is also superb as King’s supported yet suffering wife, Coretta. A woman who wants to stand with her husband and yet feels scared by the constant threats.
The film’s real heart comes in the form of British actor David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King. This is a performance that you forget is an actual performance. He doesn’t just capture his physical appearance or a vocal impression. He is King. You listen as he gives his heart-felt sermons and you believe you are listening to the great man. It is an all-consuming piece of acting. It is a crime that he hasn’t been given the recognition in the awards as this is a towering and pitch perfect portrayal.
Selma could have been a preachy piece. It could have been misjudged, even to the point of awful. Instead, this is a moving, triumphant film about a remarkable man and an event that changed America. It will have you cheering, have you crying and ultimately have you wondering how far we have moved on. Not to be missed.