Selma brings Civil Rights movement to life

X-avier Miller

Staff Writer

Selma in its the most purest sense serves a great reminder to everyone that, no matter how far we have come in accommodating and assimilating everyone equally and genuinely into society, we still have a long way to go. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) embodied peace, persistence and deliberation for the people by the people.

In the opening scene, Dr. King receives his Nobel Peace Prize. His conversation with his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), instantly ensnares the viewer with the depth of his humility and her summiting encouragement. Selma captures the life of what seems to be ordinary: man, woman and movement. It beautifully manifests the flaws and virtues in full and raw truth; bringing to the viewers an unmarred, unbiased authentic depiction of Reverend King’s life on a professional, personal and global front.

With intricate dramatics, director Ava Duvernay, who has experience in crucial works that focus on clashing societal systems, captures a menagerie of truths by the first scene. Through this adaptation, Duvernay portrays the very deeply rooted problems of racism and inequality, still very present in today’s American society.

Duvernay captures the life essence of what it was like to be Afro-American in the mid to late 1960’s in America. Through civil-rights activists such as Bayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), Andrew Young (Andre Holland), Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), and James Bevel (Common), Duvernay captures the critical and societal shattering impact of these men and, specifically, the professional and personally life of MLK.

The most shockingly remarkable was the weaving of Dr. King’s accepting of the Nobel Peace prize juxtaposing the 16th Street Baptist church bombing. The intimate conversation between Martin and Coretta about being humble and knowing when to stand out proves to be a pivotal and moral compass for viewers today; their chemistry alone shifts the audience. The reverence of detail shown by the little girls admiration for Coretta could bring a smile to any face. This was counterpointed by the bomb going off mid-scene eviscerating any warm feelings the counter scenes projected.

Scenes, such as the woman denied voting rights, chime in on American history’s system of color coded nepotism and cronyism. In this scene, Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) is asked to recite the Bill of Rights then answer the question of how many districts there were in Alabama which she answered 87. The man who denies her tells her to state the head of each district to vote.

Another epic scene is one in which Army officer Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield) protesting in Marion County and hounded by Troopers. The panning of setting, the choppy camera positioning accompanied by his nascent trek to a nearby café, and his unfair demise at the hand of a Trooper by order of the mayor holds true even today.

This abhorrent death fuels King to expand his peaceful rebellion to people of all races and all faiths to combine their efforts in the exacting of truth and honesty through righteous action. In doing this, multitudes of faiths and peoples sojourn to Selma in the pursuit of peace. Duvernay captures this in spot scenes of families watching the news of Martin’s words and those same people executing efforts to come to Selma.

Martin is halted by grief and sorrow manifested towards the near ending of the movie in an extremely pivotal scene. After his march to the bridge with fellow activists and followers, he walks away, confusing everyone because his previous enthrallment to cross the bridge was insatiable. Later on in the night, James Reeb (Jeremy Strong), a white Bostonian priest who travelled to Selma to assist Martin, is walking with another activist, having a positive and religious conversation pertaining to Martin’s decision; when abruptly they are confronted by a crowd of bat wielders who call them “nigger lovers.” Reeb, in disbelief and sheer terror, runs for his life. Unfortunately, running isn’t enough and his life iss taken. When this incident is reported back to Martin, the ambiance of the entire movie changes.

Duvernay’s manipulation of mood, tone and mental paradigm shift plays a huge role in this movie, helping her retell in near perfection historically significant civil rights accounts. Through this rendition, Duvernay excellently coalesces the troubles of today and yesterday in perfect union.

Racially charged murders in which Afro-Americans have been victims are historical to American bouts. In reflection and out of respect to victims, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and many others, Duvernay’s understanding of African American history, both antiquated and current, as well as cinematography, captures this to the bare essence.

Duvernay’s control of scene and history is paralleled by none; her artistry itself is a form of history. She uses it as a weapon of peace and truth, branching both the past and the present. Martin’s claimed “infidelities” were handled with such delicacy and compassion that it is easy to imagine that Duvernay was present in the household during these bouts of emotional tension. The raw emotional battles between Coretta and Martin, between Martin and the movement, between the movement and the world were eased by the likes of Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Young, and the transformed “free” radical Malcolm X.

The fluidity of the scenes assists Duvernay in effectively segueing into the governmental threats against Martin’s peace, protest and marriage. These threats, sent from President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) via the FBI, prove to be a new truth amidst the both the audience and Martin’s impending concern of his well being.

Although these threats remain constant throughout, so does King’s will. These threats, accompanied with the death of activists and regained faith in the direction of the movement, bolster his assiduity. It helps him to conquer his enemies with a movie ending speech. Duvernay captures the essence of the South, it was as if sunlight was really upon the face of the audience, the sheer and utter silence rocked the mind into focus. She uses angles to broadcast the amassed crowd and captured the attention of viewers through reconnaissance of his iconic “Free At Last” speech, using dramatic truth and creative renderings of his biographical, oral, and personal history.

This movie deserves a five star rating and I would recommend it for anyone who is genuinely interested in learning about the civil rights movement of the past and today!

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