Selma (2014)

selma_2014_poster
Selma (2014)
  • Time: 122 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Ava DuVernay
  • Cast: David Oyelowo, Tim Roth, Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Wilkinson

Storyline:

The unforgettable true story chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” tells the story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted change that forever altered history.

8 reviews

  • This film is highly recommended.

    Selma is a great film. It centers on that fateful symbolic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, back in 1965, and tells the back-story of its coming to be. We follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of equal rights for all, amid the sacrifices, bloodshed, and death to many of those heroic protesters.

    Selma is foremost a history lesson, but one told with clarity and compassion. (There have been some complains about historical accuracy, objections to President Johnson’s hesitant involvement in bringing about the Voting Act of 1965 to end racism. This argument seem to be invalid as the film shows both Johnson and King being politicians foremost, both leaders a product of their times, caught in the quagmire of hatred and conformity. The film never pretends to be a documentary; it is a docudrama, a powerful one, with archival footage and factual documentation that uphold the times accurately.)

    Ava DuVernay directs the film with an assured hand and an artistic vision that keeps the film riveting and emotionally grounded. There are some moments where the film gets caught up in the sanctimonious speeches and too much moralizing, but the poetic words in Paul Webb’s literate screenplay make the film epic in scope and the director’s visual images send home King’s compelling message. DuVernay builds tension very efficiently, particularly in the clash between protesters and police. There are scenes of sudden violence that are never gratuitous (a bombing of a church, beating of innocent demonstrators, etc.) and are handled with poignancy and humanity.

    Making the film resonant is the central performance by British actor David Oyelowo as the pastor King. He downplays the role beautifully, showing King as a flawed but passionate person, a common man thrust into the spotlight as a national crusader for civil rights. Oyellowo captures King’s spirited line delivery as a persuasive orator and has many fine subtle moments as a caring husband. Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King give ample support, showing her characters loyalty and inner strength. Their moments together bring about the personal story of this married couples’ dependence on each other. The film is so well cast in most of the supporting roles, with special mentions going to Corey Reynolds, Stephan James, Tim Roth, Alessandro Nivola, and especially Tom Wilkinson as a foul-mouthed and savvy L.B.J.

    Selma takes its audience on the long harrowing journey for equality with such reverence and restraint. There are a few minor missteps along the way as the film does lose some of its its footing in reality when it uses famous actors like Oprah Winfrey, Martin Sheen and Dylan Baker, all impersonating real life figures, rather than using lesser known thespians for those roles, or when the film tries to connect the non-violent actions of Dr. King and his followers with the recent protests that led to escalating violence (as in the closing scenes with the song, Glory, mentions of the recent Ferguson unrest.) That said, Selma is a glorious undertaking that documents a historic time when a nation finally looked at the horror perpetrated on a minority and finally found its soul. GRADE: A-

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  • Selma is the first feature film to put the eminent pastor, activist, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. front and center (there was a 1978 television miniseries King with Paul Winfield in the title role). Though Paul Webb’s screenplay had interested the likes of Spike Lee, Lee Daniels and Michael Mann, insufficient funding kept the project from getting off the ground. Call it fate or a blessing in disguise: the directorial reins were ultimately taken by the best person for the job: Ava DuVernay.

    An African-American filmmaker, publicist and distributor, DuVernay had several credits under belt including the well-received Middle of Nowhere, but nothing near the weight and scope of Selma with its sprawling cast of characters, political strategising and showboating, and emotional spectacle. Her achievement here is no small feat and should not be taken for granted.

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  • I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the biopic genre. mainly because I find most biopics to be boring even though they usually serve as a canvas for great performances. Selma serves as both a Martin Luther King biopic and a civil rights drama. But there’s something about Selma that makes it different from Spike Lee’s Malcolm X or Lee Daniel’s The Butler and most biopics.

    Selma chronicles Dr. Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Directed by: Ava DuVernay and starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Giovianni Ribsi, Oprah Winfrey and Tim Roth, Selma is an absorbing film that offers a gritty and harrowing look at the Civil Rights Movement of 1965 and is led by a highly engaging, multi- layered performance from David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King. As someone who is known for his small supporting roles this is a huge leap forward for Oyelowo. Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson are also very good in their supporting roles. Tim Roth is the stand- out among the two and gives the film’s next best performance after Oyelowo as the racist governor of Alabama, George Wallace. The movie also features good cameo performances from Martin Sheen, Cuba Gooding Jr, Dylan Baker and Oprah Winfrey.

    Selma manages to avoid being a generic biopic by being a film that is equally about the civil rights march as it is about Martin Luther King. It’s a powerful and emotionally moving film. Politics is a major element of the film and King’s speeches, his debates with Lyndon B. Johnson are as important as his personal problems at home. DuVernay’s direction is truly superb. She manages to create a tension filled atmosphere and deliver two of the film’s best and most brilliantly staged scenes. The script from Paul Webb is equally engrossing. The pacing is swift and there is rarely a dull moment throughout the film.

    All in all, Selma is a wonderful movie that provides an enthralling look at the civil rights movement and the life of Martin Luther King Jr. that is both deftly directed and excellently acted.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    -Khalid Rafi

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  • As per Oscar season tradition, we are graced with yet another biopic of a famous historical figure. This time however it is of one that has never emerged in his own feature length film before, Martin Luther King. With his infamous speeches, peaceful protests and iconic voice, King is alive and well in Ava DuVernay’s Selma. However, with the recent success of films such as 12 Years a Slave and The Butler, does Selma merely come across as preachy or does it push through and stand on its own merits?

    Selma follows MLK (portrayed by David Oyelowo) through 1964-65 in his quest to allow Black citizens to register to vote unencumbered in the Southern states (Alabama most prominently) in spite of intimidating and violent law enforcement, an immovable state Governor in George Wallace (played by Tim Roth) and a reluctant President Lyndon Johnson (played by Tom Wilkinson). When King desires to launch a 50 mile peaceful protest march from Selma to Montgomery, he learns just how much the Black vote is truly worth in a state where tradition outranks law…

    First and foremost, I wish to say I am so shocked. I am sad and heavily disheartened to see that David Oyelowo has not been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar this year. Even amongst such company as Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton for The Theory of Everything and Birdman respectively, Oyelowo’s performance as MLK is nothing short of breathtaking; for a British actor to adopt an accent/voice so accurately and for any actor to adopt a historical character so completely is seldom seen. Every scene he’s in, Oyelowo not only convinces us that he is this legendary figure, but he also provides an endless depth of warmth and humanity, giving us a natural and complex connection to a man that we would otherwise treat as a do-no-wrong legend in American history. DuVernay has done what very few director’s in her shoes would do; she has given her lead role the closest to perfect casting imaginable. Sad that he wasn’t chosen by the Academy. The Golden Globes got it right.

    Secondly, DuVeray’s direction and cinematography is so smooth and awesome to watch. While it is not quite up there with Steve McQueen’s faultless direction of 12 Years a Slave, DuVernay goes off and does her own things. She takes the time to make the film look and feel like it’s playing out in real life, while the cameras merely happen to be in the right places. The factual confirmation in the film is just one part of that; any scene from a meeting to a phone call might be visually logged as a factual time-and-place event. This grounds the film in a documentary feel and really sells it as real-time events. Without Oyelowo’s intrinsic performance, this visual documentation style just wouldn’t have worked the way it did. DuVernay’s visual style is excellent and the shots are all so well chosen, including a two beautifully depicted bridge crossing scenes during the peaceful march sections of the film. Another beautifully shot scene is a moment where MLK visits the father of a dying man in hospital to pay his respects.

    The cast as a whole is outstanding. Tom Wilkinson is an inspired, brilliant voice as President Johnson, whereas Carmen Ejogo brings a gritty, wonderful portrayal to King’s wife. The entire supporting cast is genuine, memorable and most importantly, grounded in reality. No actor feels unnecessary or badly chosen. It really does come across that DuVernay has taken the time putting together her cast and everyone gels beautifully.

    Along with the historical documentation style that DuVernay has applied visually, the primary fundamental that separates this film from other historical biopics is it’s distinct lack of soft edges around it’s protagonist. MLK is by no means a perfect man and this film shows that; he makes decisions that have consequences and he has pressures weighing down on his personal life away from the speeches and the protests. DuVernay sets this tone in the opening shot of the film, with a snippet of an MLK speech, directly into a touching scene with King debating with his wife on whether or not his ascot is suitable for receiving his Nobel Peace Prize. Selma, in the end, comes off more as a character drama than a historical biopic, though the visual style would say otherwise. This benefits the film as a whole and ultimately partners with the documentary visual style as if it were meant to be. Everything just comes together so ideally it is difficult to compliment it enough.

    The only criticism I have of this film is that while it is far from preachy, there are a couple of shots (I mean it, just some individual shots! Talk about nitpicking) that do border on too much. My least favourite shot, purely for ‘hammering home the message’ needlessly, is where a young Black man gets shot and he falls against a wall covered in news reports of African American success stories. This was, in a film with so much emphasis on subtlety and understatement with regards to ‘the movement’, just a little too obvious for my taste. As I say, this is pure nitpicking and simply a result of me actively seeking a fault to mention.

    Overall Selma truly is an outstanding piece of cinema. Accurate with its historical content, perfect and inspired in it’s casting. Visually stunning, with an Oscar robbed 2015-stealing performance from David Oyelowo and a obvious best Director snub for Ava DuVernay. It never comes across as too preachy nor as a White guilt trip, just a strong character driven biopic that humanises the legend and blatantly avoids any attempt to Hollywood-ise King’s journey.

    I Have a Dream… that more films will be made to this standard in future.

    9.5/10

  • Ava DuVernay’s latest film Selma is probably one of the best movies about the Civil Rights movement of the 60s and probably the most honest in its portrayal of the brutality suffered by African-Americans in the South at this time. It also shows the outright racism that was accepted at the time and even leaders like Governor George Wallace doing nothing to stop it.

    After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) returns to his home in Atlanta, Georgia to find the next step in his Civil Rights movement. He finds it in the town of Selma in Alabama, where black people are still unable to register to vote, despite legally being able to. King is joined by fellow members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to tackle this issue. Meanwhile, President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) is nervous about about the tension King being in Alabama is having with racist governor George Wallace (Tim Roth). King and his followers eventually decide to walk from Selma to Montgomery as a peaceful protest.

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  • Ava DuVernay’s Selma is more important as a social document than as a film. It reminds America of the brutal history from which it has not yet escaped. Like any period piece it reflects not just the time of its setting but also the time it is made.
    First, it recalls the drama of Martin Luther King’s leadership in the 1965 march from Selma Alabama to the capital city Montgomery. That forced the Voting Rights Act ensuring African Americans the unimpeded right to vote. It’s a stirring story but a sad one because it recalls the horrible violence of the white suppression of the negro, extending to the murder of white sympathizers as well. The blatant hatred is chilling.
    The black woman director makes this very much the black perspective on those events, without the usual valorizing of some whites. She pulls no punches on the violence, especially in the church explosion that killed five little girls and in the vicious police attacks on civilians. It’s also the woman’s perspective, as Coretta King’s role is emphasized, especially in mediating between King and Malcolm X, and in the assertive career of a hospital worker played by Oprah Winfrey.
    When the epilogue text explains the later career of King’s aides Selma becomes the turning point in US politics. From there a generation of African Americans moved into the mainstream. And Dr King’s speeches still stir the soul.
    Perhaps more importantly, the film reflects on today. Clearly the nation is still stuck in the quagmire of racism. The political system still privileges the white man. That’s what Sarah Palin was saying when in the wake of Obama’s first election she declared “Give us back our country.” There is still a systematic suppression of the underclass’s attempt to vote, whether in voter registration, voting regulations and conditions, or the farce of the hanging chads that snuck G.W. Bush past Al Gore. Especially given the new unbridled power of the PACS, the voting system is still rigged and corrupt.
    Nor has President Johnson’s War on Poverty been won either. If anything the gap between the richest and the poor has widened and the number and desperation of the poor have ballooned. Cops still get away with the unwarranted murder of African Americans, as do white civilians armed with the Stand Your Ground clause.
    So electing a black president did not make America post-racist after all. In the Republicans’ belligerent refusal to respect his office, explicitly preferring to ruin the economy rather than cooperate, and in the virulence the president has evoked in the vox populi, the old racism has metastasized but remains systemic.
    If we don’t have a George Wallace now we have the Koch brothers poised to spend a billion to buy the next election. The Right-dominated Supreme Court is a far cry from the assuring humanity of the film’s judge, Martin Sheen (of course). Seeing the engagement of the Christian church in the civil rights movement, one has to ask where is the church today? Where are the church leaders speaking out against the oppression of the Spanish American underclass, the systemic poverty and restrictions on education and voting rights? And how do today’s Tea Party class and Christian Republicans stand against the leadership their church took in the civil rights movement then?
    We need to see Selma, then, both to be reminded of that signal point in American history and to see how our present system harbours new forms of the old systemic bigotry and inequality.
    With that important business going on here it seems trivial to reduce the discussion to the film’s Oscar nominations. The Best Picture nomination acknowledges its importance and its achievement. As for the other categories, there was just too much better competition this year. As a film this isn’t in the same league as Boyhood, Birdman, Foxcatche etc. But Selma has a social value beyond its mere function as a film and for that we should be grateful. For more analyses see http://www.yacowar.blogspot.com.

  • Quickie Review:

    Selma chronicles a crucial moment in Martin Luther King’s campaign for equal voting rights. In a time when civil rights movement was gaining momentum, M.L.K. still had many obstacles to overcome, both personally and politically. Despite the opposition that resulted in innocent casualties, King leads the march from Selma to Montgomery that would go on to become a significant victory for civil rights. David Oyelowo excellent portrayal of M.L.K. brings us the relatable human behind the icon and leader for peace. Selma is a deeply engaging biopic showing both behind the scenes of the movement and the burden of responsibility that M.L.K carried as a leader. This is a film that does great justice in depicting a vital moment in American history.

    Full Review:

    Who hasn’t heard of Martin Luther King? Everyone has heard of him. He led the ambitious peaceful protests to give every American citizen the right to vote, regardless of their skin colour. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you didn’t know much about the man himself. I certainly don’t and that’s why I had to see this movie.

    In history class we have all learned about the revolutionary leaders such as Gandhi, Mandela, and M.L.K. We know of all the freedom fighting movements they led in their countries and the seemingly unsurmountable obstacles they had to face. So we easily start seeing them as being more than human without any weakness or breaking point. The greatest strength of this movie is David Oyelowo because he showed us the vulnerability of M.L.K. Just in his silence he communicates the overwhelming doubts he had about his involvement. It wasn’t only his life at risk, but also the lives of his family and his supporters. I liked seeing this side of him because it helped to understand his motivation to continue his campaign. Oyelowo portrays M.L.K. as a relatable human being with very real fears, but also his almost superhuman nature in the way he picks himself up and faces the threats head on.

    The approach to biopic is rather unorthodox for Selma, when compared to others out there. It doesn’t tell the whole life story of M.L.K. from birth to death. Instead it concentrates on a 2-3 month period during the civil rights movement. By concentrating on this singular event of the Selma march it refines the storytelling and provides us with a concise, well-paced flow to the movie. I should also mention the depiction of the racial violence in this film. It was definitely graphic, at times difficult to watch. Even when considering setting of the time I was left speechless. So if you are sensitive to that you’ve been warned. Still it was the extreme reality that thousands of people had to face every day. Hence I appreciate that the director did not hold back on showing the horrible atrocities at its most violent.

    Filming wise, Selma is well directed and brilliantly acted. However, bearing in mind the historical significance of the events covered, this movie needed to be more than well-filmed, and it absolutely is. This is an important film to watch to understand the man behind the movement, and by choosing to showcase the culmination of King’s work, the Selma march, there is not a single wasted moment.

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  • “Selma” follows Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), in his attempts to get president Lyndon Johnson to give Negro’s the right to vote in the south. All of King’s speeches are uplifting, and show the troubles of the time. The film portrays King as a man fighting for his beliefs, unsure of what to do, rather than a god like figure. The scenes between King and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), are also resonant and offer more insight to the life of King.

    The performances in Selma are among the best of 2014. David Oyelowo brings a strong presence, and humanity to King, completely grounding the man, rather than portraying him to be some sort of godsend. Carmen Ejogo plays all the emotions of a vulnerable woman afraid of losing her husband perfectly. Wendell Pierce, most notable in HBO’s The Wire, does great in a supporting role. Dylan Baker, Tom Wilkinson, and Tim Roth also shine in pivotal roles. Wilkinson brings some realism to LBJ(how great would it be if Bryan Cranston played him here?), LBJ was not an easygoing guy.

    Those elements alone, while do make Selma good, what makes this film something truly special is the direction. Ava Duvernay is one to watch, her choices are all fantastic. The violence in the film is very stylized. Slow motion, and mute sound effects make it all the more effective, and really sell the point. The violence is gritty, but the shot composition, and lighting is gorgeous. The choices in music all make sense, and add plenty of entertainment value. Duvernay’s direction is top notch, and doesn’t hammer anything into your head.

    I can’t recommend Selma more. It is a remarkably entertaining and effective film. Ava Duvernay directs this film as well as any of the best working today!

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