At a time in The United States of America when we as a nation are actively discussing racism, Selma champions the importance of humanity and examines one of America’s greatest advocates for civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Upon entering the theater (which coincidentally is addressed at Martin Luther King Dr. in Oklahoma City), I was anxious to see how director Ava DuVernay would examine Dr. King–not just as a leader but as a man. Selma was a great way movie to start off my year, and to be blunt it still has me in its grasp.
Powerful and Entertaining
Aside from an original song by Common that, while meaningful, has instrumentation that sounds uncomfortable and awkward, there is little to criticize regarding Selma and its study of Dr. King–and that in itself is the film’s biggest strength.
This is not a film viewing racial tensions from afar. It is quite intimate and forces the viewer to feel tense, and at times uncomfortable–considering all of what’s presented actually happened. It was a great choice to make the film a character study, looking at MLKJ from every angle as a flawed but passionate man who was as honest about his nation as he was about God, himself, and the people he served.
The film’s story is intriguing, regardless of how familiar you are with it beforehand. Even myself, someone who was well aware of the history Selma would be presenting, found that I was still emotionally wrapped up in the film, reacting to the story as if it were my first time experiencing it. Paul Webb has penned a satisfying screenplay, full of three-dimensional characters, all of which are great to watch. There’s not a dull moment to be found in the film.
Selma is full of sincere drama, encouraged only by the many moments of true tension that encompass it. This is a serious look at Dr. King as a leader and man of God, the likes of which should not be taken lightly as the film is serious in its intentions. It expects you to be quiet, and to pay attention. You’ll be rewarded and moved if you do.
David Oyelowo gives an Oscar-worthy performance in the lead as Dr. King right down to his mannerisms and speech patterns. Not once did I feel as if I was watching an actor. He is Dr. King for the film’s entirety, and is the driving force behind making the film the success that it is. The supporting cast is quite good as well, particularly Carmen Ejogo as King’s wife, Coretta. The cast is Selma’s strongest attribute with not a weak performance to speak of.
Bradford Young’s (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) cinematography is more than serviceable as it accentuates every moment through great use of light and color. Shot with Arri Alexa cameras, many moments utilize negative space via deep blacks in the dead of night or pristine sunlight bursting through windows behind characters.
The film effortlessly transports you to 1965, to the scorching streets of Selma, Alabama. Christian iconography is also well used, communicating the importance of Dr. King’s faith to his cause and mission to see every American citizen treated equally. The scenes of violence are also handled with great care and respect.
Selma is a film that needs to be seen by anyone who loves great cinema. It is a good example of how film is an effective art form, communicating the timeless message of loving our neighbors as we would want them to love us. It’s difficult to critique a film that gets almost everything right, considering it succeeds so well in its goal. In a world where many spend their time arguing over their favorite fantasy/superhero epics, I’m glad to see a film that examines the world as it once was, taking from that history such a wonderful message. Please, go and enjoy Selma.
Content Guide for Selma
Violence – Black marchers are terrorized and beaten with guns, nightsticks, barbed stakes, and a variety of other weapons. Men, women, and children are beaten and killed–all of which is historically accurate.
Sexual Content – A fabricated tape presenting Dr. King with an alleged mistress during sex is listened to by Coretta King.
Language – Racial slurs are common (“n****r”, “n*****s”). Some uses of the words “f**k”,”g*****n”, “b******t.”
The Bottom Line