Directed by Ava DuVernay (I will Follow, Middle of Nowhere), Selma follows the campaign in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr to secure equal voting rights by marching from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. The film is nominated for best picture at the Oscars this year.
One of the main aspects I really liked about this film was the juxtaposition shown between domestic life and the racially motivated violence. It was deeply disturbing how integrated this violence was in their lives and this was shown through the clever editing of this film showing scenes of Martin Luther King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and an act of terrorism inter cut together. King’s wife Carlotta King (played by Carmen Ejogo) describes in the film the “fog of death” hanging over their lives and this really hammers home the very personal struggles for King’s family.
David Oyelowo’s performance as Martin Luther King Jr was brilliant. He really captured King’s presence, charisma and presence but also his human nature. There was a great interview with David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay recently that said they wanted to show King had an ego, he had faults and that simply he was a human man. I think that’s something important to remember. That he was an ordinary person who stood up for civil rights.
As well as humanising King, the film was very human centred. It showed the happy, communal spirit of the movement, it showed family and friendship but it also showed the extreme brutality from one human to another. Whilst this was heartbreaking, I did like that the violence was not sugarcoated. They made it clear that it was unprovoked, cold blooded murder based on prejudice. In that way the film is very powerful and moving.
I also liked that Ava DuVernay decided to add more women into the film when she became director. She said in a recent interview that it would be lying to show a film about the civil rights movement that didn’t include women because they have always been such a vital part of it. I think having that representation of women in this way is vital. Ava DuVernay is the first black woman to ever be nominated for a golden globe for best directing and she was nominated for Selma. I think that is a great step and that the film is brilliant.
The film is particularly relevant given the events in Ferguson over the past six months regarding police brutality against black people. Watching this film knowing this and how in many ways little has changed was completely heartbreaking. It’s easy to look back at the civil rights movement at this time and demonize the people who caused this kind of oppression, racism and brutality so that you can separate yourself from them and know you’re not like that but it’s important to remember that the civil rights movement is still not over.