A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Ava DuVernay
Written by: Paul Webb
Distributed by: Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films, Harpo Films.
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Wendell Pierce, Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Andre Holland.
SELMA is a film that acknowledges the great things Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished while respecting his humanity. It’s an immense film, and a triumph for director Ava DuVernay. It is an unjustly excluded film which is liable to retain relevance long after the 2014 Academy Awards have concluded.
SELMA follows King (David Oyelowo, in a star making turn) who plans the Selma, Alabama protests in the wake of the multitude of racially motivated murders. He tries to get President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) on board, but Johnson has a whole lot of other things on his plate and he doesn’t want King leading him by the nose.
The film has a rich supporting cast, including Tim Roth and Carmen Ejogo. Roth plays Governor George Wallace, a man who is trying to pander to the racists in Selma in order to seek re-election, as a slippery snake of a man who edits his rhetoric to hide his true, malicious intentions. Carmen Ejogo is excellent as King’s wife, Coretta (dare I say, she got snubbed a supporting actress nod), she is maternal and supportive, while still refusing to be relegated to the background.
My favorite scene in SELMA comes near the middle where Coretta discovers that King has had affairs with various women while on the road. It does not play out how a scene like this might, the two talk it out, and King is forthright with her. It is an interesting way of handling that scandal, which has followed King throughout his legacy.
The great thing about SELMA is that it doesn’t necessarily hold King in reverence. He is not a god of a figure, he is a man who is struggling with what he must do next. He is a man in a position that demands a great deal of responsibility, and he hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with it yet.
What I don’t understand are the people who threw a temper tantrum over the films portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson. Yes, Johnson threw his support down what would eventually become the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sooner than SELMA shows him doing, but he was also a vehement racist during a lot of his time in congress. I digress, lets turn away from the facts and focus on what this does for SELMA as a film, and the minimization of Johnson’s role only aids it. We have seen a lot of “white savior movies” (whether it be something like THE HELP or 12 YEARS A SLAVE or even DJANGO UNCHAINED in some regards). Despite the fact that many “white savior movies” are fine films in many regards, it does leave a whole open that DuVernay seeks to fill with SELMA. It is that undercurrent of rebellion that leads the film to stand out.
SELMA is a great movie that is still worth seeing even if you already have during the five weeks it has been out. It is a masterstroke for DuVernay and represents the establishment of a new master in the tragically underrepresented group of female directors. Go see it, a movie hasn’t drove me to tears like this in a long time.
Suggestion: See it