January 19, 2015


"Selma," the story of a pivotal point in the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a well-cast, well-acted re-telling. At times it lacks a bit of a spark, especially as David Oyelowo delivers MLK's rousing, eloquent and inspired speeches in an almost too polished fashion, even though MLK was a great orator. But this is one of the film's only flaws.

The very word "Selma" should be fraught with meaning for Americans, but with each generation, once-shocking and galvanizing events fade. Historical dramas are an excellent way to bring to life crucial personages and moments, to "never forget" where we came from as a country. Many historians loathe these re-enactments because they know all the finer complexities of situations and fear that what people now see on the screen will become ingrained as Gospel truth. But getting 80% of history right is worth it if the alternative is knowing 0%.

"Selma" truly focuses on this one event in MLK's life with just enough backstory to get us going, with just enough hints at the even worse recent nightmare of slavery. Nothing is gratuitous or maudlin in "Selma." This shows great restraint in proper filmmaking, much like the great restraint required by the nonviolent movement. Rather than overstuffing the film with every great event  and character of the 60's, "Selma" is focused. For example, we see Malcolm X only once, at just the right time and in just the right way.

Oprah Winfrey is almost unrecognizable as she gives an incredibly humble and unprepossessing performance. Carmen Ejogo looks eerily like Coretta Scott King, so much so that you would think she had cosmetic surgery. MLK's small entourage of planners and activists give just the right aura of men powerful and determined in their own right, but willing to trust the thinking, leading and strategizing genius of Dr. King. But the real heroes of the film and the movement are the completely ordinary everyday folks, black and white, who put it all on the line. Tom Wilkinson is brilliant (and comical) as LBJ. There is subtle humor everywhere if you know a little something about these times: Edgar J. Hoover's bit part is hilarious.

The film does not forget that Dr. King (doctorate in theology from Boston University) was also, or perhaps first, a pastor. God is the ultimate reason, the ultimate giver of freedom and rights and dignity, and the civil rights movement is very much seen as God's will--"who created all men equal"--by many of its participants.

The tone of the film is mildly tense with a few flares in violence and raw emotion. There are many scenes of a kind of minimalist stillness. The film could have been made in a more dynamic way with intensity, blasting score, with quicker cuts and shorter dialogue, but it gives us the feel of real life unraveling in real time. The cornucopia catalogue of this era's music (including all the jazz, blues, Gospel, folk, rock, spirituals, etc.) is used sparingly and to great effect.

For the most part, little of the actual footage of the Selma March(es)--there were two!--is used, which puts the burden on the current-day filmmakers to deliver their own images, rather than using the real images as a crutch. Only towards the end, and with purpose, do we see long cuts of the actual marches. The first march was all-Black. The second march was integrated. The media played a great role in raising awareness of the invisible horrors transpiring in the South by reporting in print, but also and much more powerfully, photographing and filming, and then displaying on worldwide television.

Today's social justice movements (e.g., "Occupy" and #BlackLivesMatter could really take a page from Dr. King's, Ghandi's and others') playbook. If possible, go stringently by the existing laws in order to change them. Otherwise, highly organized civil disobedience. (An unjust law is no law at all.) A cogent list of demands, outcomes and desired goals. Use the system itself in order to be able to truly use the system (in "Selma's" case, be able to vote). And above all? Nonviolence. Because nonviolent action works and brings lasting change. But who will be able to stick to nonviolence in the face of all kinds of unwarranted, blatant and brutal intimidation; oppression and bigotry, and flagrant disregard for the law by those in power? Who will have the superhuman patience to be able to carry on in the face of stubborn attitudes that refuse to change? Only those who truly believe in the depths of their hearts that hatred is weaker than love.


--Woman director! Woman director! Ava DuVernay (snubbed by #OscarsSoWhite). This is the whitest Academy Awards (noms) since 1998. Angelina Jolie was also snubbed for "Unbroken."

--I chuckled aloud a few times, gasped a few times, and learned a lot.

--LBJ's confidential n***** comment (like Sony's hacked emails), shows how deep racism is in the USA. This is what Black people understand only too well and know that many white people don't. If I was Black? I would just be full of simmering anger at the hypocrisy. I wouldn't want to be, but I know I would be.

--King's purported womanizing is dealt with with economy and gravitas. It had to be.

--"Negotiate, demonstrate, resist." MLK's strategy in a nutshell. (He keeps repeating this.)

--As an American, I feel proudly that somehow this is my story, too.

--Most African-Americans have been in the United States longer than most white people.

--People were so much more articulate in the 60's. Sigh. The film has such incredible attention to detail that it captures older pronunciations of words, antiquated expressions, etc.

--I don't know if the (older) Canadians in my theater got all the jokes. But then again, Canadians do not engage in boisterous laughter.

--Other related must-see movies and docmentaries: "Eyes on the Prize" (Civil Rights Movement), "Malcom X" (Denzel Washington), "42" (The Jackie Robinson story). And if you want to understand who Malcolm X was at the end of his life, you MUST watch the interviews he gave about his journey/transformed thought.

--Did you know that MLK's niece, Dr. Alveda King, is a pro-life activist?

--"Selma" really showcases above all the inner workings of the movement. How easily factions and infighting sprung up and how it was resolved.

--Couldn't help thinking of the song "Sweet Home Alabama" and Neil Young. :(

"Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come...." Amazing Grace

"The man on the news said China's gonna beat us,
We shot all our dreamers, there's no one left to lead us.
We need a solution, we need salvation,
Let's send some people to the moon and gather information.
They brought back a big bag of rocks.
Only cost thirteen billion. Must be nice rocks.
You think it's such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
Then you find out they're only princes to begin with
And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
Follow God or sing the blues, and who they're gonna sin with.
What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it.
Don't ask me, I'm only visiting this planet." 
Only Visiting the Planet, Larry Norman


  1. Anonymous7:42 AM

    We took our boys (16 and 14) to see this on Monday. While they're familiar with black history in the US through slavery and up to the repeal of Jim Crow laws, neither of us realized just how little they knew about the Civil Rights movement. It was alarming - my wife asked me, "Did we do something wrong?"

  2. thanks its very good :) i like movies