Down the street, there marched a throng,
Arm in arm to right the wrong
Of rights unequal for so long.
Their very presence was a cause
Of hate for some, for some applause,
But hate had hold upon the laws.
These laws to justice were opposed,
And so they marched and re-exposed
The rights the Founders first proposed.
Change is born from word and deed,
From marching feet and wounds that bleed,
And truth we may not want but need.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for street violence and language)
I had wanted to review Selma in February in honor of Black History Month, but as usual this year, I’m a little late. At least now I’m on track with the whole one-Blindspot-per-month schedule. As I expected when I chose it as a Blindspot, Selma turned out to be an ideal choice for Black History Month, covering an important period of the civil rights movement and offering a compelling portrayal of the man behind so much of it, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
David Oyelowo plays Dr. King, and I’m still shocked that he wasn’t even nominated for a Best Actor Oscar that year. It’s a career-defining performance that reminded me of Gary Oldman’s turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, in that it presented a great man and what made him great while depicting his low moments and acknowledging his imperfections. Oyelowo especially excels in the reenactments of King’s impassioned and eloquent speeches, and the supporting cast is equally stellar, from Carmen Ejogo as his long-suffering wife to Tom Wilkinson as a grudgingly helpful President Johnson. The whole ensemble contributes to an engagingly personal history lesson, from established actors like Tim Roth and Oprah to then-newcomers who have become more well-known in the years since, such as Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson.
My VC thought Selma had the slight feel of a TV movie, and some critics have nitpicked its historical accuracy, but more often than not, Selma felt to me like watching real, immediate history, which is the best compliment that can be offered to a historical drama. It presents uncomfortable truths tastefully, such as the doubts surrounding King’s potential adultery, and shows the horrors of hate and prejudice in ways that are powerful but not graphic. While King certainly preaches, the film doesn’t too much, letting its story develop its themes, such as non-violence; for example, King’s assertions that their efforts need to be noticed by white America are fulfilled when the Selma march is joined by white religious leaders and supporters from across the country, lending greater numbers and prominence to the event.
I don’t know why it took so long for me to watch Selma, but I’m glad I did, even if I’m left annoyed that it didn’t get more Oscar love that year. (It did win Best Original Song for “Glory,” which ironically was the one thing I didn’t care for, not being a fan of rap.) The only criticism I have is that it might be hard to keep track of all the characters if you’re unfamiliar with the history. Nevertheless, this feels like an essential film for not just black history but American history. With its laudable lead performance and rousing conclusion, Selma deserves to be ranked among the greatest historical films.
Best line: (Dr. King) “Our lives are not fully lived if we’re not willing to die for those we love, for what we believe.”
© 2019 S.G. Liput
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