Saturday, January 10, 2015


History in the making
Director: Ava Du Vernay
Studio: Harpo Films / Plan B/ Pathe
Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wiliknson, Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Sheen, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Niecy Nash, Dylan Baker, Common, Allessandro Nivola, Nigel Thatch, Henry G. Sanders

                      Review by James Colt Harrison

Many movie-goers today were not around during the hullabaloo taking place during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. So,Selma is a good history lesson for both blacks and whites to see. This excellent film from director Vernay should wake everybody up about how unfairly our very own citizens were treated.

Yes, the whole story has been shown on TV, been written about in hundreds of books, and principals in the movement have been interviewed countless times over the years. But until now, nobody has captured on film the struggle of Martin Luther King (Oyelowo) and his fellow activists to bring about justice for African-Americans in the South and in all of the United States.

King was a peaceful man, but he was determined to correct the injustices laid upon “his people” during a dark period of US history. He organized “sit-ins” and marches to draw attention to the cause. He was met with violence and vicious confrontations by the whites in power at the police departments and other government officials. Tim Roth, a terrific actor on any account, once again plays a vivid character who is allegedly Governor Wallace. He’ll not put up with any shenanigans by the marching black folk. Once again their rights have been taken away. When Oprah Winfrey’s character attempts to register to vote, she is  foiled by rules made up on the spot. This was just an example of the injustices that were an everyday occurrence.

King visits the Oval Office and pleads with President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The two have strong words for each other. At first Johnson is reluctant to back any voting-rights legislation because he has bigger fish to fry. Actor Tom Wilkinson, one of the best character-stars in films, becomes Johnson complete with a Texas accent, and we almost believe that it is the President. Wilkinson is so good at what he does that he actually becomes the person he is playing. In Johnson’s address to Congress, Wilkinson shows empathy for the cause and is sincere in his portrayal.

Although the surviving King family did not give the filmmakers permission to use any actual copyrighted King speeches, the film’s screenwriters have done a superb job in capturing King’s passion and nuances. Paul Webb’s script is so well-written that all of Oyelowo’s speeches sound as if King had written them.

The entire cast is superlative, especially Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King. We must single out newcomer David Oyelowo for his grasp of the man King, his passions, and his weaknesses. We’ll be seeing a lot of Oyelowo in the future.

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