On New Year’s Day, I was invited to a private screening of the Ava DuVernay and Paul Webb’s new film “Selma.” Within the first five minutes of the film, as diverse as the viewers may have been, we were assured we were all beholding one of the most provocative and breathtaking masterpieces since perhaps the epic Titanic movie. I am not a cinematic analyst, but I am well aware of when a piece of work is so brilliantly done that it pulls at your heart and leaves you speechless, regardless of socio-economic differences. As a voracious history buff, I can attest to the fact that most historical documentaries generally sabotage the true essence of the story because director either goes too far or not enough in the dramatic department in an effort to appease a mass crowd. Amazingly, this film found a way to preserve the historical significance while alluring us even deeper into the true message of the story. British actor David Oyelowo’s portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is beyond Oscar worthy and I am clueless to how or what techniques he used to overcome his British accent and give a perfect southern, 1960’s drawl. Carmen Ejogo portrayal of Coretta Scott King is equally captivating and she did a phenomenal job of capturing the elegance, articulate, educated yet supportive aspect of the late Mrs. King. Oprah Winfrey’s portrayal of Annie Lee Cooper also left the audience in awe. It is perhaps her best role since The Color Purple. The movie starts with her (Annie) desperate attempt at registering to vote, only to be harassed, challenged and ultimately denied by the white registrar. “It’s clear this isn’t the first time this woman has tried to this. The registrar practically snarls at her and begins asking her questions…Recite the preamble (she does so perfectly)…How many county judges are there in Alabama (she correctly answers)…Name them all!!! (She is unable to name all 66 judges and quickly denied.)
Selma does not gloss over Dr. King’s many infidelities; in fact his indiscretions become a major and poignant plot point in the film with Coretta Scott King telling him he needs to get his house in order and if that means taking a break from changing the world, so be it. The movie also includes a scene in which Mrs. King meets with Malcom X and they have a very heartfelt and inspiring exchange. The director does an amazing job at capturing the brutality that the marchers had to endure in a quest for their right to vote. Some of the protest are indeed painful to watch. To see men and women of all ages brutally beat and pummeled because they are walking in unison and peaceful protest for their right to vote is gut retching. Their right to vote was law. And yet those who were sworn to uphold the law committed criminal acts of extreme violence because of hatred. The tear jerker moment for the audience was watching the young protester killed because he was protecting his elderly grandfather born in the late 1800’s. His grandfather identified the body at the morgue and informed Dr. King his grandson made a promise that before he (the grandfather) died, he (the grandson) would ensure his grandfather had voted at least once.
In the heart of the racial tensions that are transpiring in our country today, I would encourage everyone to see this film. You will be moved! The movie did an excellent job at showcasing how those sympathetic to the cause can traverse color, racial, religion and educational backgrounds. As one journalist wrote, “Selma is an important history lesson that never feels like a lecture. Once school is back in session, every junior high school class in America should take a field trip to see it.” I give it 5 stars, 2 thumbs up and a raised glass of champagne…Deo