Hollywood Finally Gives Dr. King his Due

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

?????There are many stories that can come out of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a defining period of America that has an abundance of history to share. In “Selma,” director Ava DuVernay gives us a highly inspiring historical drama that recounts the bravery of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his protestors as they journey to have their voices heard.

Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 desegregated the South, there were sections that were still heavily discriminatory, which made it a challenge for African-Americans to register to vote.  In response to this, Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) begins a new mission to help them obtain equal voting rights. To achieve this, King travels to Selma, Alabama to gather a group of protestors to stand up for their suffrage. Despite the dangers that the protestors face, King will stop at nothing to have his group march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and bring national attention to the cause.

David Oyelowo, with the impassioned speeches he delivers throughout the film, provides a performance that holds the power to give the viewer chills as he brings this American figure to life.  From his dynamic public speaking, to his unfaltering courage, to the perseverance of his task, Oyelowo brings across the heroic nature of MLK, and watching him address hundreds, and then thousands of people gives you the feeling of what it must have felt like for spectators to watch this individual bring change. Oyelowo fully embodies this individual who fought with his words, and right when the film begins, you know he is going to do complete justice to this national hero, but it’s when you first see him addressing a church full of protestors that you know he holds the spirited speaking power of King.

As Coretta Scott King, Carmen Ejogo fully conveys the stress of being apart from her husband during his time with the protest groups, while she takes care of the rest of their family at home.  The fear and worrying for her husband’s safety truly makes you understand the anxiety she’s experiencing.  It’s a rather quiet performance, but one that really emphasizes her support of her husband and desire to keep their family together in the midst of adversity.

Seeing as the Selma-to-Montgomery march is the story’s emphasis, the screenplay by Paul Webb focuses on how, even after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, African-Americans still had a significant distance to go before they achieved full equality. The film jumps around between King’s time at home, his protests in Selma, and his trips to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to try and gain his support, all of which gives us great detail of the work that went into trying to get voting rights.

What’s intriguing about the screenplay providing focus on just the Selma-to-Montgomery march is that, instead of detailing King’s whole life and several of his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, it focuses on one aspect of his quest for civil rights, which helps to show the effects of a single event in the scope of the whole CRM, a movement that had plenty of important events within it.

One fault I did find with the screenplay, however, was the somewhat lack of focus on King’s flaws.  Normally, I wouldn’t think much of it, but toward the beginning of the film, there’s a scene that sets up a possible subplot that will detail the supposed affairs that King had on his travels. Instead, we see this issue played out in one other scene about halfway through the film, and not much else. Although the movie is meant to celebrate King for being the activist he was, it would have been interesting to see a little more of what went on in his personal life.

Director Ava DuVernay expertly captures the narrative’s historical events and films the violence between victims of racism and their oppressors in the type of unsettling detail that makes the injustice against the oppressed infuriating to watch, such as the horrible violence inflicted on them during “Bloody Sunday.”

There also has been a noticeable glut of MLK movies in Hollywood over the years, so “Selma” offers a rare film adaptation of the historic life of Dr. King. One criticism of “Selma” has been its apocryphal historical representation of LBJ’s role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The movie portrays LBJ as far colder than historians credit him as being.

DuVernay also makes effective use of different camera angles during King’s big speeches to provide the viewer with the maximum impact of the power of his words. Using all of this, DuVernay fully expresses the importance of everything that happened at this point in the Civil Rights Movement and pays tribute to one of our nation’s greatest heroes.

Final grade: A-