HOLLYWOOD—Wow, I can’t believe its taken decades for someone in Hollywood to finally deliver a film about one of the greatest Civil Rights leaders of all time: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Director Ava DuVernay finds a way to capture a slice of life in Dr. King with “Selma,” highlighting a crucial moment in King’s life and American history that forever changed the country.
Walking into the theater with the perception that the movie will chronicle King’s entire life would be a mistake. Instead the movie centers on the time period when the Voting Rights Act was passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. It’s a wise choice as well, attempting to deliver a picture about King and his entire life, would not only take more than 2 hours to do, but it could present some narrative challenges to directly connect with the audience.
British actor David Oyelowo is a revelation as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not only does he capture the full-body transformation of King by putting on a bit of weight, he looks the part and captures all of his mannerisms and speech diction with such a nuance it’s scary. Even though I was born nearly two decades after King’s death, from the videos and pictures I’ve seen, Oyelowo, is frighteningly scary as a doppelganger.
What resonates so well with the biopic is the factoid that it comes at a time, where racial tension is once again at a fever pitch in America. With recent tragedies involving unarmed African-Americans Michael Brown and Eric Garner, “Selma” forces us to acknowledge we’ve made progress in the country, but we still have so much more to do to symbolize what King hoped for one day in the future.
The narrative follows King and his followers as they plan the march on Selma, Alabama in 1965. The realism captured on film is an eye-opener to the brutality that some of our ancestors experienced in the Deep South and the 1960s in an effort to have their voices heard.
It’s amazing to realize that it’s only been about 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was passed. Fifty years ago police brutality and oppression was at an all-time high. The film begs the question of if we’ve really made the progress to ensure all people are equal regardless of the color of their skin?
Oyelowo isn’t the only actor to bring his A-game to the film, as Carmen Ejogo shines as Coretta Scott King, Martin’s wife and a faithful adversary in his crusade for justice. Other notable players in the picture include Tim Roth portraying racist Alabama Governor George Wallace and Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson. Producer Oprah Winfrey also shows up in the picture as Annie Lee Cooper.
For years many from my generation have heard about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his crusade for equality and his message on non-violence. To see such a man and the people who held onto his every word as if it was gold, face such harsh, brutal violence and to not raise a finger is a beacon of light.
“Selma” not only reinforces the notion of protesting in a non-violent manner to obtain justice, it delivers a portrait of a man, a historical figure whose sacrifices continue to be echoed in the present day.