By Dominic Preston.
Selma is, quite frankly, astonishing. Far from the overly sentimental Oscar-bait it might at first appear, is startling, bold and revolutionary. It’s a visceral gut-punch of a film, concerned with making the audience feel the urgency of the injustice at its core, and the charismatic power of Martin Luther King Jr. to lead people against it.
Wisely following the lead of films like Spielberg’s Lincoln, Paul Webb’s script chooses to explore King through the lens of a specific period: the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama in March 1965. This focus allows the film the benefits of a tightly structured narrative, while enjoying the chance to show King’s highs and lows as he grappled with the responsibilities of leading the civil rights movement.
British actor David Oyelowo takes on the unenviable task of bringing King to life, and his performance is staggering. The headline achievement is capturing the power of King’s captivating speeches (written here by director Ava DuVernay thanks to lacking the rights to the originals), with both script and actor working together to recreate the signature flow of King’s diction. Oyelowo’s real achievement, however, is in showing King at his lowest points, bringing out the man struggling in his marriage, bombarded by death threats and plagued by doubts. DuVernay and Oyelowo bring King to life, and Selma could not possibly work otherwise.
The film’s most memorable sequence captures the events of Bloody Sunday – a march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, which was met by state police armed with billy clubs and tear gas. Cinematic violence has rarely felt so vital, with every sickening crunch of a billy club bringing the historical injustice crashing home. It’s the sort of sequence that makes you sit up and stare in awe, before retreating mouth agape and in a state of shock.
Much has been said of the film’s peculiar timeliness, coming as it does in the midst of fresh concerns over racial injustice in Ferguson and New York. Selma offers a reminder that legal equality is never the end of the battle for fair treatment, that injustice continues so long as there’s a brute with authority and prejudice ready to carry it out, while others stand by and insist that there isn’t really a problem after all.
Selma could easily have been a rote biopic, happy to remind us what an inspirational guy Martin Luther King was and how ugly racism can be. Instead, it captures the man behind the history, and offers a convincing argument that said history is more relevant today than it ever has been.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.