Selma: Movie Review

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I finally was able to see Ava DuVernay’s Selma over the weekend. The film, which is nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, has been one of the more talked about films of awards season, along with American Sniper (that review will be up soon). Many have criticized Selma for historical inaccuracy, particularly with how the filmmakers have handled the portrayal of Lyndon Johnson in the film, which I will address later on in this film. But the big controversy is that DuVernay wasn’t nominated for Best Director, which many found to be a travesty since many have hailed Selma as being one of the best films of 2014. Its been close to a month since the film expanded nationwide, and I have here my review of Selma. 

Selma tells the story of when Martin Luther King J.R., played wonderfully by David Oyelowo, is trying to push civil rights in the film. We open fairly early in the film with King meeting with President Johnson, played by Tom Wilkinson, about a piece of legislation giving African-Americans the right to vote. In the film, Johnson feels that he must hold back a bit on it, as he has other things on his agenda to deal with (again, I’ll explain more about that in a bit). King decides that he will go to Selma to inspire people to march, and hopefully standing up to prejudice in the Deep South will bring forth change in 1965 America. 

DuVernay directs a script by Paul Webb, which is the writer’s first published script. After seeing the film, I can now understand why so many people are talking about Selma in a positive light. Its beyond comprehension that DuVernay could be overlooked for such a powerful and important film like Selma, which is one of the great historical dramas of this decade. Its incredible that MLK was finally given a film, and its even better that its as great as Selma is. While the historical inaccuracy can overshadow the film at times, it doesn’t prevent Selma from being one of the great films of the past year. 

I find it odd that David Oyelowo, who practically emulates Dr. King in this performance, was overlooked by the Academy for his incredible performance in this film. Its a great performance of a man who changed the world, and was looked upon by some as a threat, and others as a savior. His performance is probably what makes Selma as great as it is, and his sermons that he gives to the church in Selma are truly incredible and inspiring. I really admire how DuVernay shot and directed this feature, as she does something really incredible with shooting those said sermon sequences. Most filmmakers would go the traditional Hollywood route and shoot the film in a very romantic and vanilla way. DuVernay shoots the film with as much grit as the subject matter has, which I admire her for. 

The sequence of the march in Selma (known as Bloody Sunday to many) is easily the most powerful sequence in the film, and its one of the best scenes that I’ve seen in a film, mainstream or obscure, all year. It feels raw and real, and good luck holding back the tears at times during this film, because its tough. The film is a massive ensemble, and other than Oyelowo in the film, there are some great performances in the film. Carmen Ejego plays Coretta Scott King, and she’s fantastic in the film. A young actor named Stephan James plays John Lewis, who was integral to the Civil Rights movement, and the real John Lewis has been a United States Congressman for decades now. Tim Roth plays George Wallace, and he’s very good playing the racist Alabama Governor of that time. 

And then there’s Tom Wilkinson as LBJ. He’s fine in the role, but my bone to pick with is the portrayal of Johnson in the film. The filmmakers portray Johnson as maybe a little racist, as well as having a stand-offish relationship with Dr. King, as well as being hesitant on passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As countless historians and myself can tell you, that’s far from the truth. Lyndon Johnson and Dr. King had a very good and respectable relationship. Once LBJ assumed office in 1963 following the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Johnson was very aggressive in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in 64, an election year, Johnson and Dr. King both planned out the Selma march, and both worked together to get this bill passed, which it did in August of 1965. I can understand a filmmaker taking artistic license with the material, but I feel that Selma could’ve just been as compelling of a film if they made the portrayal of LBJ in the film similar to what happened in real life. That’s all I have to say on that. 

Other than what I just mentioned above, Selma is a truly great film, and must be see if you haven’t seen it yet. Its been out for a month now, so hopefully there are still some theaters still playing the film if you haven’t already seen it. So I’ve seen most of the films nominated for Best Picture, so I will try to see Sniper later this weekend if I have time, and then I will probably announce the Movie Talk With Jake Salinas Awards (no flashing name for it, just a list of what I thought was the best of the best. I don’t enjoy being flashy).

Final Rating:

A-

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