Selma [2014]

20 feb 2015

Gotta step it up us to discuss a must
It ain't nothin but an us thang
Rewind back to the time
Where the color of our mother
Had 'em call it a crime
Brother what in the world?
And the world says where is the black man
Support the woman and children
Time to step it up, step it up, it's playoff time 

And the rhyme go to check, so check yourself
Lyrics from "New Agenda", 1993, written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis and performed by Janet Jackson & Chuck D]

No film will ever do enough justice to the figure of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, Selma is maybe the best movie about the activist and humanitarian killed on April 4, 1968.  

Director Ava DuVernay created an almost flawless masterpiece that narrates the events before and after the historic Selma to Montgomery voting right marches in 1965. It’s a magnificent and painful experience at the same time, especially when you realize that there’s still a long way to go. There’s still not enough justice in this world for everyone and sometimes the price for it is paid with lots of blood and tears. 

Selma starts with Luther King’s acceptance of the 1964  Nobel Peace Prize. In contrast, there is the tragic 16th  Street Baptist Church bombing (1963), perpetrated by KKK extremists who killed four African-American girls. All of this sets the scene for the subsequent events that would lead to the tragic Bloody Sunday in 1965.

DuVernay dissects Martin Luther King’s personality with great precision and allows the audience to understand his reasons and points of views.  Yes, some cynics may argue that there is a subtle sanctification of his public persona, but after all this is almost unavoidable. He’s portrayed as an idealistic man with strong religious beliefs and also hopes and fears like everyone else.

Hopefully the audience will get the most important message: he dared to fight for a strong cause and inspired millions to follow his example. He stood against immorality and injustice when no one else did and not even death could take away his legacy.

David Oleyolow’s performance is greater than any award nomination and I said this with enough sarcasm, but with deep admiration at the same time. Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and even Sidney Poitier must be proud to see this young man turning into one of the best actors of his generation. He has the gravitas and talent to portray to perfection one of the most fascinating characters for any actor out there. 

Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King) on the other hand is always in perfect synchrony with Mr. Oleyolow and embodies the vulnerability and braveness of the woman who inspired and loved Luther King, Jr. every day of their life together.  

Back to the movie, the murder of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield) triggered everything that happened afterwards. On March 7, 1965, a group of around 500 people marched from Selma to Montgomery led by John Lewis (Stephen James) and Reverend Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce). The goal of this march was to reach Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) in order to address very important issues, such as the brutal murder of Lee Jackson by local police officers. It was supposed to be an unarmed, non-violent event, but Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) had something very different on mind.

The grotesque spectacle was broadcasted live both on TV and radio and over 70 million people witnessed (President Lyndon B. Johnson among them, played by Tom Wilkinson) one of the worst displays of police brutality in recent history. Then Ava DuVernay turns the Bloody Sunday events into one of the best cinema sequences of the 21st Century. 

The crudity of the scenes was treated with immeasurable artistry: with an impeccable cinematography underlining the picture, the blood, screams and laments of the hundreds of people being beaten to death and attacked with tear gas are lost within the dust raised by the police’s horses running as fast as possible to reach every one of the marchers. 

This is a sequence worth watching dozens of times, not as a masochist exercise or something like that, but as a reminder of the things that we must never allow to happen again. As a member of the human race I refuse to support any ideology or government that segregates people in such disgusting and sickening way.

Selma also shows everything that happened after the Turnaround Tuesday in which Dr. Marthing Luther King refused to go on, thus obeying the court’s order preventing them to march. The movie also pays tribute to heroes like James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, played by Jeremy Strong and Tara Ochs, who were brutally murdered by white supremacists because of their support of equality and their strong opposition to racial segregation.


After Judge Frank Minis Johnson (Martin Sheen) allows it, the march finally takes place in perfect peace and Martin Luther King delivers a powerful speech on the State Capitol.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Extract of the original text of the speech).

Even when some critics have criticized the supposed lack of historical accuracy (specifically the way that President Lyndon B. Johnson is portrayed in the movie) Selma is an amazing effort  and hopefully the new generations will be more and more interested in reading and learning about this part of modern history after watching the movie. 

The spirits of Viola Liuzzo, James Reeb, Jamie Lee Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr. himself and every man and woman who gave their own lives in the name of freedom and justice are still very much alive and many men and women are waking up again to focus on what is really important.  Justice and love have no color at all. Why is this so hard to understand?

It’s never too late to give peace a chance. In the meantime, don’t miss the chance to watch this piece of art at least a couple of times.

February 20, 2015

Selma, 2014
Production company: Cloud Eight Films, Harpo Films, Plan B Entertainment, Pathé
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Produced by Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
Directed by Ava DuVernay
Starring David Oleyowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Roth, Wendell Pierce, Stephan James, Jeremy Strong, Oprah Winfrey, Tara Ochs, Tessa Thompson, Keith Stanfield, Andre Holland, Common
Cinematography: Bradford Young
Music by Jason Moran


20 feb 2015