I was just a wee lass when the march from Selma to Montgomery took place in 1965, so it’s wonderful to see this historic event brought to life on the big screen. From the footage I’ve seen of Martin Luther King, Jr., David Oyelowo really becomes him in this film.
￼”Selma” follows the three months that take place between Martin Luther King, Jr. ￼(Oyelowo) accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in December of 1964 and the historic ￼Selma-to-Montgomery march for voters’ rights in March of 1965. ￼King, along with fellow activists in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, ￼want President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass legislation protecting ￼the voting rights of African Americans in the South. Johnson, however, is more ￼interested in poverty issues and asks King to wait.
With help from John Lewis (Stephan James) of the Student Non-Violent ￼Coordinating Committee (SNCC), King begins to organize the march, which turns ￼violent as Alabama State Troopers beat the marchers as they attempt to cross the ￼Edmund Pettus Bridge.
￼Meanwhile, King’s efforts are weakened by the FBI, who reveals King’s infidelities ￼to his wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo). It’s not glossed over, which helps ￼to make this film an honest look at King’s life. He may not have been the best ￼husband, but he was a stellar leader of the civil rights movement.
￼Helmed by writer-director Ava DuVernay, “Selma” details a very specific time in ￼King’s life, which I think helps audiences to connect with the story, the man, and ￼the historic significance of the event. Oyelowo, who’s perfectly cast as the civil ￼rights leader, skillfully captures his speech rhythms and philosophy of “negotiate, ￼demonstrate, resist” to move the country forward.￼
Parts of the film are brutal and grim, with white supremacists beating the ￼nonviolent protestors to death, in some cases. Oprah Winfrey is especially ￼poignant as Annie Lee Cooper, a woman who’s unable to register to vote and ￼who’s beaten more than once but never backs down.
￼Other standouts include Common as James Bevel, Wendell Pierce as Reverend ￼Hosea Williams (he hasn’t aged a day since “The Wire”), Stephen James as John ￼Lewis, Tim Roth as Gov. George Wallace, Alessandro Nivola as John Doar, and ￼Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Fred Gray.
A beautiful script, excellent performances, and gripping subject matter make “Selma” one of the best films ever made about the civil rights movement. I hope it’s shown in history classes across the country.
At the New York premiere of “Selma,” our writer Paula Schwartz chatted with the stars on the red carpet. I especially love what Oprah Winfrey had to say about the power of movies to affect social change.
“Movies allow you to think about what’s been done before and allow you to see — in this movie, in particular — what’s come before, and to me, it’s really about the rigorous discipline of peaceful protest and what strategy does when you know what you want.”
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language.
Released in Theaters: Jan. 9, 2015
Best for Ages: 13+
Runtime: 122 minutes
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Common
JANE’S REEL RATING SYSTEM:
One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender.
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.
Jane Boursaw is a well-known film critic and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Images used are courtesy of Paramount Pictures.