I am a big fan of sarcasm. That’s why at this year’s Golden Globe Awards my favourite joke came from Tina Fey. When introducing each film the hosts, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, have a witty and controversial anecdote prepared. When Selma was brought to light, Fey stated “…the movie Selma is about the American civil rights movement that totally worked and now everything’s fine.” Of course the sarcasm here refers to the ongoing racial hate that sadly continues to fester in American culture. This has appeared more prominently to the rest of the world during the recent unrest in Ferguson, following the shooting of an African-American man, Michael Brown, in August. What Fey boldly highlights is the painful relevance of a movie like Selma, today. Following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement of 1965, Selma depicts the courageous protest marches that put great pressure on the government to ensure that black people had the right and, more crucially, the power to vote. The film revolves around Dr. King and the stress of leading such a movement. Death is always near and conflict always present during the fight for equality. Selma has its joyful moments – moments made more powerful by the realisation that prejudice and inequality still exist within Western culture. Even with a black president, racism still remains. The civil rights movement secured the vote, and many other basic human rights, for the black people of America but Selma forces us to reflect on the everyday behaviour of society and contemplate how far we have supposedly come.
The power of Selma lies in its brutality. This movie does not shy away from the violence inflicted on the innocent at the voting rights marches. It shows many scenes of shocking malice and abuse which comes across as powerfully as it would have done to those witnessing it on their televisions back in 1965. Selma transports us back to the era. Our modern day liberations seem to fade away as we watch the civil rights activists face constant obstructions, ignorance and injustice. The current relevance of Selma is also enhanced by its modern soundtrack which directly references Ferguson. David Oyelowo’s portrayal of King is more of a preacher than anything else. He is a leader, an activist, a father, a husband and a revolutionary but first and foremost we see him as a man of God. God is present in all of his speeches and in the guidance he gives and receives. He brings hope to those he marches with and for. To be black in 1960s America must have made it easy to feel like God had forsaken you. The religious outlook brought to the cause by both King and the supporters only emphasises the commitment, determination, grace and strength of those in this vicious fight. The ensemble cast supports the masterful depiction given by Oyelowo who plays King with faults, doubts and flaws but always with conviction. Selma struggles with its pacing in its latter half and over-stretches by about fifteen minutes but somewhere in here is a 105 minutes movie that encapsulates the danger of ignorance and the sorrow of prejudice. It feels to me like America really needs a film like Selma right about now. It’s been slightly snubbed by the Academy at a time when black Americans are feeling particularly undervalued. This year’s Academy Awards are the least diverse and innovative we’ve seen for a while and at the heart of the debate is Selma – a courageous telling of one of America’s greatest human rights violations of the last century.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.