“Selma” Moving, Heartfelt
By Skip Sheffield
“Selma” is a magnificent, heartfelt tribute to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Interestingly, Dr. King is played by Oxford, England born, classically-trained actor, David Oyelowo, who fully embodies his character in voice and manner.
"Selma" is directed by Ava DuVernay, who was mostly known for music videos, yet she did an impressive job handling such a large and diverse cast on location in Georgia.
Screenwriter Paul Webb based his script on the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama voting rights marches. It was smart to focus on this turning point in Dr. King's varied career. Dr. King was just the figurehead for a lot of people who joined together to call attention to the denial of voting rights in Alabama and other parts of the South to African-Americans. I am old enough to remember Alabama's Governor George Wallace and his infamous, fiery declaration, "Segregation Forever!" While the Civil War had been won by Union forces 100 years previously, sentiment for the segregationist Confederacy still ran deep in the Deep South.
George Wallace is played by another British actor, Tim Roth, who looks nothing like the stout, dark George Wallace. That's how it is in fictionalized history. "Selma" is not a documentary, and some of the incidents and characters are played for dramatic effect.
Principal among these are U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, played by yet another British actor, Tom Wilkinson. A war of wills is depicted as Dr. King tries to force LBJ to do something about the atrocities that were being committed against black people in Alabama.
Within the ranks of civil rights crusaders there was dissension, with Dr. King, Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce) and James Bevel (Common) on the more moderate, pacifist Souhern Christian Leadership (SCLC) side and John Lewis (Stephen James) of the more activist Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). A late addition was Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) of the radical activist Black Panthers.
The pressures and strain on Dr. King’s long-suffering wife Coretta Scott King (beautiful Carmen Ejogo) are touched upon, but more alarming are the invasions of privacy and outright slander committed under the command of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker, in slimy mode) against Dr. King.
There are a number of dramatic highs that build to the climax of the actual march, when clergy from all over the U.S. and Canada flocked to Selma to join the cause.
“Selma” may not be completely accurate historically, but it sure is moving dramatic and inspirational. Among the producer of the film are Oprah Winfrey, who plays a small role as a maid who joins the cause, and actor Brad Pitt, who used his influence to get the job done.
In short “Selma” is an epic drama for anyone who believes in equal rights for all Americans.