Film Review: “Selma”

Morgan Smith

Selma” is an immensely powerful film, and it was a long time coming. This is the first major motion picture about the life of Martin Luther King Jr., in theaters for the day celebrating the man’s life and work.

David Oyelowo portrays King in the events leading up to and following the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Oyelowo was supported by a strong ensemble, including Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr. and William Macy. Ava DuVernay, a woman who is no stranger to films with strong sociopolitical messages, directed the film.

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“Selma” starts with a bang, depicting the bombing of the Birmingham, Alabama church, which killed four African-American children and marked a turning point in the civil rights movement. This scene was created with horrifying beauty, perfectly setting the scene for the extreme violence and prejudice to follow in the remainder of the film.

Selma
Image Courtesy of IMDb. Selma was released Jan. 9.

Historical Accuracy

Every biopic or period film has its historical inaccuracies. They often become inevitable. There are such minor inaccuracies in “Selma,” but the biggest one, and the only that takes away from the film, is the portrayal of the relationship between LBJ and Dr. King. You can easily do the research yourself, but the main point is that the film shows LBJ as a tyrant who really has no care for civil rights, and sees Dr. King as a bug to be squashed.

There is no evidence supporting this.

There are recorded conversations available to the public that show the relationship of the two men as a cooperative and friendly one. In fact, LBJ is considered one the best presidents when it comes to civil rights. Why DuVernay decided to create such a strange dynamic is up in the air.

The film also shows LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, conspiring to take down Dr. King. This is also unsupported. While Hoover did make investigations into King’s life, he did so because of suspicions of Communism, not because he received orders from LBJ.

Otherwise, the film was beautiful, powerful and a reminder of our country’s dark past.

Character Portrayals

King is not portrayed as a perfect man, which gives the film enormous credibility. His adultery, troubled marriage and questionable decisions are all put in the spotlight. The story revolves mostly around King’s personal life and the events that placed him at the front of that bridge in Selma.

Oyelowo did all of the heavy lifting in this film, creating a realistic vision of King. This especially comes out in King’s speech at the end of the film, which ties up all of the violence the audience has been exposed to for the past two hours. This moment is presented in an emotional and powerful fashion.

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Oyelowo and DuVernay did not receive Oscar nominations for “Selma,” creating some controversy; however, “Selma” has been nominated for Best Original Song and Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards on Feb. 22, in addition to already having won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

“Selma” is in theaters now.

Collegian Film Beat Writer Morgan Smith can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @MDSFilms.