MOVIE REVIEW: Selma

Selma’s Bloody Sunday took place on my 12th birthday.

selmamovieIt seemed like the obvious thing to do. The Wife and I went to see the movie Selma on the Martin Luther King holiday, which also celebrates Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Arkansas Mississippi, and, notably, Alabama.

While The Wife dropped off the Daughter at the sitter’s, I waited for her, and for the massive crowd to see this film. And there was a stream of people coming in the Spectrum Theatre, to see… American Sniper, which, to be fair, had just opened, while Selma had opened the week before. Still, our theater was about 85% full.

You must understand that I recall these events extremely well. Bloody Sunday took place on my 12th birthday. I remember Andrew Young, Bayard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams, and others. I surely remember Sheriff Clark. When a guy named James Reeb comes on the screen, I say to myself, “He was a Unitarian minister from Boston.”

So here’s my review: it was great. Director Ava DuVernay was visionary in recreating the feel and look of the period. David Oyelowo didn’t so much look or sound like Martin Luther King Jr., as embodied his essence. The same can be said for Carmen Ejogo as
Coretta Scott King.

But I was having trouble writing this review, not because I didn’t know how I felt about the movie, but rather because I didn’t know what to make of the “controversy” around it. Specifically, it had to do with the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson, played extremely well by Tom Wilkinson. Even before we saw the film, an in-law had mentioned that “Selma, the film, is not exactly true.” After seeing the movie, all I can say is: claptrap.

It’s not that Selma should be impervious to being critiqued. It’s only that the criticism, which the ‘Selma’ director responded to, seems disproportionate to the total picture. Folks who well know the Alan Turing story found The Imitation Game enjoyable, even while recognizing that it’s far different than the actual events. Walt Disney didn’t actual go to London to pursue the “Mary Poppins” author, as it was portrayed in Saving Mr. Banks.

In the case of the film Selma, I believe not everything was factual – the reference to the Birmingham church bombing was in 1963, not as chronologically close to the 1965 Selma story as it might have appeared. But it showed a greater truth about a people being terrorized by racism.

Bill Moyers, who I admire greatly, thought the film was wrong in suggesting that LBJ was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the “sex tape” to Coretta King. I had a chance to talk with a film critic, and we both thought the movie was far more ambiguous than that.

These two articles pretty much reflect my sentiment: It’s Critics of ‘Selma’ Who Are Distorting Civil Rights History and What’s really behind the “Selma” backlash.

I didn’t agree with this section of the article from Slate: “The film’s running time is a swift two hours; I wouldn’t have minded an extra 30 minutes to learn more about the rest of the civil rights pioneers (all real historical figures) who march arm-in-arm on the front lines with King.” The film, as it says at the end, is not a documentary. There are plenty of them already about this era.

This was an extraordinary piece of film making, especially considering the movie doesn’t use the actual words from MLK’s speeches, for copyright reasons.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW: Selma”

  1. Okay, first of all, Robert E. Lee’s birthday? Sweet fancy Moses. And people actually wonder why I have no interest in living in the South.

    Second of all, while I haven’t seen Selma, why is it okay to criticize its portrayal of historical figures but if you criticize the portrayal of Chris Kyle, you’re a traitor? Sheesh.

  2. In 2001, I routed one of my epic road trips through Selma. I crossed that bridge; I studied one of the infamous “literacy tests” at the National Voting Rights Museum (which I likely would have failed); I wept once or twice. And I reached this conclusion:

    “While today there are political activists on both sides of the racial fence seeking advantage by dividing us, Selma deserves to be remembered for a time when the name of the game was unity.”

  3. I loved, “Selma”, too, though I always find such movies really hard to watch because I know the history, and it’s painful to see it so lifelike (which is precisely why I must watch…).

    I was troubled by the depiction of LBJ because it wasn’t accurate, but that certainly didn’t take anything away from the film for me. If the movie is good, as “Selma” was, I can mentally correct errors and “dramatic license” that I think goes too far. And this is nothing new, of course, and I don’t think it’s fair to single out “Selma” without heaping harsher scorn on History [sic] Channel’s “Sons of Liberty”, that was far, FAR worse in making up things and changing history (although, like “Selma”, it did evoke its era).

    I guess I wonder if there’s some sort of double-standard at play, that ANY errors or dramatic license in “Selma” is a HUGE deal, while other films and TV shows can get away with getting stuff very wrong. I’d like to think that’s not the case, but then I look at the Oscar nominees, and well, I wonder…

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