Film Review: Selma

Monday 23 February 2015 by

Selma, Film, David Oyewolo, Martin Luther King Jr

The critically acclaimed Selma has been on my to-watch list for a while now. The film tells the story of Martin Luther King’s battle to secure the vote for black people, as he arranges a march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

The political and racial tensions are at their height, with racially motivated attacks on blacks all across the South, including attacks on children and King himself. King is played by Brit David Oyewolo, one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, and his performance is flawless. He even gets the accent and rhythm of tone right. I always enjoy watching Oyewolo because he brings such determination and strength to each of his roles, and he encapsulates the character perfectly. As King, he does that and more. He draws forth Martin Luther King again to create a powerful, charismatic character immediately like the real man.

But it’s not just an impeccable performance from the cast (which includes a surprising turn from Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper) that has given this film such stunning reviews. Visually beautiful, it attempts to capture 1960s America, and does it with ease and class, from the cars to the kitchens to the soundtrack. As the tension builds, the scenery reflects it too.

Although I’m aware of the story, I felt surprised by every turn, and shed more than one tear. Oyewolo plays a King who is unsure of himself in private, who is tired of the fight, but who must inspire others. And the core of the story is both brutal and definitive.

Martin Luther King Jr was killed in 1968, and in many ways the march from Selma to Montgomery felt like it was just the beginning. As a leader, as an instigator of change, King was far ahead of his time, but not far enough in to his fight when he was killed. But it was the others around him that took on the mantle, going on to positions of power in the government, many held until this day. And more than a biopic, this film demonstrates the great mass of people that fought for civil rights. This is their story to tell as much as King’s. But in many ways, it is sad to see some of the scenes, as they so clearly reflect the more recent scenes in places like Ferguson last year. This film shows how far we have come, but how far we have yet to go. It’s a stark reminder of the fight that so many people must face to reach equality.

I came out of the film with more than the satisfaction of watching a good film. I came out with the sombre reminder of the greater scheme of things; that there are bigger fights, harder fights to be had. Selma shows a mere snapshot of King’s life, and of the Movement as a whole. You feel like there could be a hundred more films like it, and it would still not cover the breadth and depth of the full story. But what has been achieved here not merely a good film, but a good education.

It is an inspiring story. And one worth watching endlessly.

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