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SELMA (review)


Written by Paul Webb / Directed by Ava DuVernay / Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Lorraine Toussaint and Carmen Ejogo

Martin Luther King Jr.: We shall overcome.

In 2012, Ava DuVernay’s film MIDDLE OF NOWHERE was a hit at festivals and in the indie market. It is not uncommon for a filmmaker in this position to follow up with a film of a slightly larger scope, and DuVernay does just that by pulling out all the stops for her latest film SELMA, proving herself as a powerful and gifted filmmaker.

SELMA is anchored by David Oyelowo (THE PAPERBOY, THE BUTLER) who stars in the film as Martin Luther King Jr. Rather than playing as a simple biopic and detailing King’s life and death, SELMA focuses on one issue. The film centers in on King’s efforts leading up to and during the 1965 civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama. We are first introduced to the issue in Selma when Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) has come to court to register to vote. She has filled out all the correct paperwork, but after failing an impossible pop-quiz, her request is denied. King meets with President Lyndon B. Johnson (played wonderfully by Tom Wilkinson), who has recently passed a bill giving black people the right to vote. King explains the voting issues to Johnson, but the president urges him not to take action. It is then that King and his group of advisors land on Selma, Alabama to stage their protests.


First and foremost, SELMA is a showcase for Oyelowo, an actor who has showed up in many films over the past few years, but is only now given the chance to truly shine. Oyelowo doesn’t simply play MLK Jr., he becomes him. Most importantly, Oyelowo perfectly imitates both the sound and force of King’s voice.  Before SELMA we only knew King from his speeches and photos; Oyelowo’s performance transcends what has been established as King’s public persona, showing a real person: flaws, sense of humor, and all.

DuVernay avoids most of the conventional tropes that viewers may come to expect from a biopic of this nature. She is never afraid to show the true brutality that occurred during these events, making no attempt to sanitize the horror that took place. This is evident right from the opening minutes of the film, where we are shown a bombing at a church that kills some young school children; in slow motion no less.


With the recent increase in tension and demonstrations rising in American to draw some much needed attention to police brutality against the black community, SELMA could not have come at a better time or be more relevant. Yes, King may have made vast improvements for African-Americans, but the racism that exists in the film is one that is just as prevalent today, even in the supposedly post-racism America. SELMA reminds viewers that people can band together to make changes in our society. The film is not going to change the world, but it is certainly a reminder of how it was once done and can be done again.

4 sheep

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