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.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the film, plus a look at the presentation and the extras.
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.