Selma Review

After all the troubles across America over the past year regarding how the black population is treated by the police, there couldn’t have been a more perfect time for a film about Martin Luther King to be released. Moreover, by focusing more on the Selma protests, a clear parallel can be drawn about how the police treat black protestors in the past and today and this focus gives the film a clear narrative structure that works better than a straight forward biopic of King would have been.
The film concerns the events leading to the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, in particular the protests conducted in Selma, Alabama leading to a march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. What I think is brilliant about the film is how the film portrays King. Throughout the mainstream media and American culture, King is portrayed as this lionised figure who did not wrong and was in full confidence with the US government. This film though shows King to be a flawed individual, someone who has conducted affairs against his wife, someone who was constantly watched by the FBI (with the film showing some of the FBI reports throughout its runtime). What the film does best though is the portrayal of King as a serious political player. In the early stages of the film we see King deliberate with some of the activists he works with over whether Selma would be the right place for the protests to be conducted, the way in which the protest would be conducted and the best way to get the media to Selma to force President Lyndon B Johnson to send the Voting Rights Act to Congress. There’s even power plays from other figures in the Civil Rights Movement, in one scene, Malcolm X goes to see Coretta King to say that he will play the role of the agitator so people would be more inclined to support King. The film also does a great job in showing how the black population were prevented from voting, with people being either intimidated to prevent them from registering in the first place or being asked questions no-one could answer off the top of their head such as naming every single state judge in Alabama. This also goes true for the way the film portrays the reaction by the police to the Selma protests, with the film not shying away from just how brutal the treatment of the protestors was, aided by top tier direction from Ava DuVernay, and the fact that so little has changed since the 60s is horrific. One of the areas of concern for the film was that the speeches of King are owned by Dreamworks meaning that they could not be used. As a result, new speeches had to be written. Whilst it was virtually impossible to fully capture the essence of King’s speeches, the film does the best it can and the overall style of the speeches are nailed.

In terms of the acting, the obvious standout is David Oyelowo as King. He nails Kings body language, speech patterns, everything about the person that we see in video footage but he also shows how flawed King is, filled with doubt, constantly needing to make sure that what he’s doing is the right thing. He also never lets us forget just how intelligent King is, showing how important a political player he is. Tom Wilkinson meanwhile is great as LBJ. Whilst many have complained about his portrayal, it feels more believable that LBJ would be on-the-fence about the protests and the whole issue of voting difficulties for the black population following the Civil Rights Act. The interactions between King and LBJ are handled excellently as well, with there always being this air of mistrust in the room with King being especially impatient of LBJ not understanding the plight of black voters. In terms of King’s personal life, Carmen Ejogo is great as King’s wife Coretta, showing the damage that King’s actions has done to her through the death threats he receives and her concern over if something ever happened to him, along with showing increasing suspicion that her husband is having an affair. In terms of the other activists, great, subtle work is done by Wendell Pierce, Stephan James, Common, Andre Holland and Alessandro Nivola, whilst very unsubtle work is done by Tim Roth as George Wallace, who plays the racist nature of his character up to 11. This is an incredibly well acted film, and it’s baffling why David Oyelowo wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of King.

Overall, Selma is a brilliant, incredibly relevant film that, helps to show just how important a political player Martin Luther King was and how important the Selma marches were. Great direction by Ava DuVernay, excellent cinematography by Bradford Young and a terrific central performance by David Oyelowo make this a film to see.

My Rating: 5/5

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