By: Taylor Fulkerson ~Managing Editor~
The Newswire reviewed one of the best films covering the Civil Rights era in the last decade on Jan. 9: “Selma.”
“Selma” depicts the march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., that helped make the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a reality, the same voting rights legislation that was partially repealed in 2013 to the dismay of many. The film begins with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. receiving his Nobel Peace Prize and immediately cuts to the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, showing the violence King was facing, even as he received accolades.
The film follows him and other figures from the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as they gathered in Selma, preparing to march to Montgomery for voting rights, challenging entrenched racism in the South and the Johnson administration.
The acting in “Selma” is topnotch. David Oyelowo stars as King, and he portrays the Civil Rights leader well, capturing both the hair-raising bravado of his oratory and his pensive moments of doubt and concern.
The pacing of the film is also excellent. The film marches forward into what feels like unknown territory, exploring the once-possible moments of history, keeping the story fresh for today.
While “Selma” has its virtues, it has three majors flaws as well. First, the passage of time in the film is hard to estimate. It is difficult to tell how many days are passing from one scene to another. The pacing may have been near
perfect, but the film left viewers without a sense of how much time had passed from the beginning of the SCLC’s efforts in Selma to the end of the march in Montgomery. This could have been easily cleared up with date stamps in the
FBI reports on King that periodically appear on the screen.
Secondly, in the film, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) is represented as initially unwilling to help King accomplish his goals for voting reform. As Time has pointed out, this was not the case. Johnson had a voting rights act drafted before the march depicted in “Selma” takes place. As the article succinctly states, “There was no shortage of real white villains in the Selma controversy, but LBJ was not one of them.”
Furthermore, the portrayal of Johnson and King’s relationship misdepicts the nature of reform. As it happened in real life, the relationship was cooperative. In the film, however, activists force the government to be their ally. Considering the context of the film — in light of protests after the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and countless other black victims of police brutality,
a claim the film makes itself with music that accompanies the credits — the film has a message about the relationship between activists and government. If the film misconstrues that relationship, it’s a real problem.
Finally, there is a strong coterie of figures from the Civil Rights era shown in the film. While that may seem to be a virtue, it becomes a problem as the film makes it difficult to sort out who is who and why they are relevant to a viewer unfamiliar with the historical period. This is a wonderful film. The glaring problems can be overlooked, but they shouldn’t be forgotten.
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