Selma is the starting point of an important march which took place in 1965, as part of Martin Luther King’s campaign in looking to secure equal voting rights for black people, following his “I Have A Dream” speech in August 1963, where he called for an end to racism in the US, which led to him being awarded with the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
Getting the right to vote doesn’t solve the issue, however, since as this film begins, it isn’t yet illegal to *stop* black people from voting, and when Dr King brings this to the attention of President Lyndon B Johnson, along with a number of other examples of racism, he gets short shrift. Selma was the chosen place to start because it’s where the courthouse resides, where voter registration takes place. Montgomery is the state capital of Alabama, hence this became the destination of the 54-mile march along the highway inbetween, showing their determination to get the vote.
As King, portrayed brilliantly by David Oyelowo, goes about his business with his right-hand man Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), Andrew Young (André Holland), James Orange (Omar Dorsey) and Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson) – knowing that he’ll be met with police brutality and potential imprisonment, the FBI are tailing his actions, in person and even on the phone, just like the News of the World also did until recently.
President Lyndon B Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) wants to help King, whilst also juggling the Doctor’s issues with all of his own governmental ones that he has to deal with, but they’re both met by opposition from racist Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) who is the big baddie of the piece, and a rather sneering and ghastly individual. The great cast of heavyweights in this movie also includes Martin Sheen, interestingly, in an uncredited role, plus Wendell Pierce, aka Bunk from The Wire, as Rev Hosea Williams.
I would like to say that we now live in more enlightened times, but even today there are reports of police brutality the world over. At least today, CCTV and mobile phone footage can pinpoint the ne’er-do-well donut eaters.
And as someone who didn’t know the full details about the Selma to Montgomery march, a film which runs a comparatively brief two hours can’t fit in every last aspect, so it rightly encourages viewers to look into it more, and educate themselves, if they don’t know all the facts.
One thing which may not be widely known is that revisions had to be made to Dr King’s speeches because, as of 2009, they were licenced to DreamWorks Pictures and Warner Bros for an, as yet untitled, Steven Spielberg project, hence director Ava DuVernay aimed to get as close to the words as she could, whilst also including the power of those words.
In addition, while all the violence and the events play out like a 15-cert drama, Selma has been awarded a 12-certificate. I imagine that’s because of the true story side to it, and so that people younger than 15 can get to see it. It’s also hardly the sort of film parents will take young children to, like 12A-fodder Jurassic Avengers, and so on, so I applaud the move to award this certificate.
The film is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition and you’d be surprised if it was not a top-notch transfer for a brand new film, but it also evokes the period of 50 years ago when the events depicted took place. I watched this pin-sharp transfer on a Panasonic 50″ Plasma TV.
The sound is in DTS HD 5.1 and is perfectly fine, but is obviously not a special FX movie, so the audio is mostly used for dialogue and ambience, with no split-surround moments.
The extras are as follows:
- The Road To Selma (13:17): What the story and the film means todirector Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, plus Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo, producer Dede Gardner, and many others. Even for a reasonably short extra, it’s nice to see there’s a couple of chapters to split it up. Not that I’m advocating segregation, you understand…
- Recreating Selma (26:29): A look at putting the film together, including the real John Lewis and Andrew Young giving their views, and scriptwriter Paul Webb discussing how he couldn’t include every last person in the script as in a drama, you have to focus on the most tense situations, which is a good point as it then narrows the film down to a tight two hours, rather than a rambling three-hours-plus, trying to include every last individual. There are three chapters to this extra.
- Deleted and extended scenes (28:43): 12 of them here, all of which need to be selected individually. Most distributors include a ‘play all’ option so you don’t have to keep going back into the main menu, just to see the next one. There are 4 main scenes, seven court testimonial scenes and a final picture wrap scene from David Oyelowo.
- “Glory” music video (3:10): as sung by John Legend featuring rapper Common, who also features in the film as James Bevel.
- Historical Newsreels (5:10): I frequently say how great it is that we get extras like Q&As and similar ‘at the time’ pieces which will never ever be repeated, but this goes one further, since I don’t think I’ve ever seen newsreel footage as an extra before. Major kudos to Sony for getting told of this.
- National Voting Rights Museum and Institute (7:45): A brief tour of the museum, standing as a tribute to Martin Luther King and those who took part in the march.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2:25): In the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio.
- Audio Commentaries: Two on this disc. One featuring director Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, with the other featuring Ms DuVernay, plus director of photography Bradford Young and editor Spencer Averick.
- Audio descriptive track: does what it says on the tin.
There are subtitles and dialogue in English only. Quite often, Fox Blu-ray boxes say ‘English only’ for both aspects whereas there’s actually tons of both, but in this case it’s actually accurate.
The menu mixes clips from the film with the aforementioned John Legend track, and there are 16 chatpers. I work on a rule of thumb of one every five minutes, so that would equate to 26, here. Hence, it could use more. Some Fox discs contain around 28 or 32, so why not all of them?
Running time: 128 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Released: June 15th 2015
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Format: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Hawkscope)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Ava DuVernay
Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Oprah Winfrey
Screenplay: Paul Webb
Dr Martin Luther King Jr: David Oyelowo
Coretta Scott King: Carmen Ejogo
President Lyndon B Johnson: Tom Wilkinson
Lee White: Giovanni Ribisi
Ralph Abernathy: Colman Domingo
Andrew Young: André Holland
James Orange: Omar Dorsey
Diane Nash: Tessa Thompson
Annie Lee Cooper: Oprah Winfrey
James Bevel: Common
Amelia Boynton: Lorraine Toussaint
J Edgar Hoover: Dylan Baker
Mahalia Jackson: Ledisi Young
Sullivan Jackson: Kent Faulcon
Jackson’s Daughter: Stormy Merriwether
Richie Jean Jackson: Niecy Nash
Rev CT Vivian: Corey Reynolds
Rev Hosea Williams: Wendell Pierce
Roy Reed: John Lavelle
John Lewis: Stephan James
Jimmie Lee Jackson: Lakeith Stanfield
James Forman: Trai Byers
Cager Lee: Henry G Sanders
Viola Lee Jackson: Charity Jordan
Sheriff Jim Clark: Stan Houston
Governor George Wallace: Tim Roth
Malcolm X: Nigél Thatch
Gunnar Jahn: Jim France
James Reeb: Jeremy Strong
Marie Reeb: Elizabeth Diane Wells
Fred Gray: Cuba Gooding Jr
Frank Minis Johnson: Martin Sheen (uncredited)
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.