What’s It About? Selma hails the legacy of the celebrated African-American rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo), capturing the leader’s ardent beliefs and his relentless pursuit for racial equality.
Verdict: Director Ava DuVernay, who made her name with hip hop documentary This Is the Life, shines a torch on King’s crusade in Selma, Alabama and importance of the march to Montgomery, marking a galvanising moment in American history that brought white empathy to the plight of politically-shackled black citizens. In 1964 King arrives in Oslo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, but the accolade is quickly followed by the furore and reluctance of the white populace to accept racial equality and progression. British actor David Oyelowo undertakes responsibility of reenacting MLK’s famous speeches for black emancipation, despair against oppression and relentless political pleas for liberty. Oyelowo’s heartrending performance has seen the actor deservedly acknowledged with a Best Actor Bafta and Golden Globe nominations.
Ignoring King’s notorious, earth-shattering assassination and focusing on political activities in Selma in 1965, audiences bear witness to emotive scenes as African-Americans attempt to exercise voting rights in spite of vicious white obstinance. President Lyndon B. Johnson, played effortlessly by Tom Wilkinson, had passed legislation permitting blacks to vote, but the bureaucratic wickedness of white officials was obstructing the application of basic democracy. Selma tackles a delicate subject matter – King’s endeavour to achieve black equality conflicted with President Johnson’s overriding political aims to deliver anti-poverty reform, while maintaining support from the traditional confederate states. Amid the political waffle, infamous FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) carves a character as the unlikable, rodent-like official, intent on jeopardising King’s mission, sullying the man’s reputation and rupturing the family dynamic with ominous, anonymous late-night death threats. Selma reveals America’s abhorrent racist history without Hollywood melodrama, and is a realistic, dark troubling depiction of the 60s Deep South.
Selma doesn’t delve into or explore the depths of King’s character, instead focusing on King’s revulsion to racism and segregation. It is documentary in theme, interspersing original footage with that of actors. We witness the impassioned speeches of a man anguished by prejudice, capable of rousing followers with inspiring rhetoric. Given the facts at face value, we, the audience, have to interpret shocking racist acts such as violent assaults by state police against elderly activists like Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey). DuVernay masterfully depicts the notoriety in America’s dirty past, using Governor George Wallace’s (Tim Roth) rants in support of black oppression, which provoke stomach-churning questions of recent twentieth century morality.
Final Words: Selma is a powerful biopic that finally serves dues to Martin Luther King and is a stark reminder of the cruel political butchery that undermined his peaceful drive for freedom and equality.
Selma is in UK cinemas today.