Selma

On Sunday night I went to see “Selma” with a good friend of mine.

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As a former U.S. History teacher the film was a must see (and would be a great film to show during a Civil Rights unit). I also thought the film looked good from a purely cinematic standpoint.

The story of Martin Luther King Jr. is well known and his life as a whole would a make a good movie but “Selma” focuses simply on the activist’s efforts to organize a march. It may sound like a simple event but in 1964 the amount of overt racism that still existed in Alabama made something like organizing a march from Selma to Montgomery to advocate for voting rights a major controversy.

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The film moves an excellent job of capturing that particular moment in time. It’s easy to see Martin Luther King Jr. as simply a martyr but “Selma’s” greatest strength is its courage to not gloss over King’s darker parts. His infidelities and his desire for “drama” are both addressed and not shied away from.

In terms of a larger historical perspective the film is very powerful in terms of the events that have unfolded in this country in the last six months.

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If the movie had come out two years ago it would have been easy to see the movie as a time capsule. It would have been simple to say “Hey, racism used to be a big problem in the United States of America but now we have Barack Obama as President so we’ve moved past it.”—But we can’t do that now. Events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York have shown us that the race issues presented in “Selma” aren’t as far in the rearview mirror as any of us would like them to be.

As for the acting the casting of Martin Luther King Jr. was going to be tricky but David Oyelowo does a great job.

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He is able to capture the essence of King without it feeling like he is doing an impression of him. Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King is fantastic. Her performance was so strong it left me wanting an entire movie just about Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife and widow. Oprah Winfrey has a small role and although she is fine in it her presence as OPRAH was too great to get me to forget I was watching her.

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As George Wallace and Lyndon Johnson the performances by Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson are adequate if not fantastic. I think Johnson is a complicated figure and the script and Wilkinson’s performance don’t do enough to show that.

“Selma” is total Oscar bait.

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I don’t know if it will pan out that way. Although the movie is good I don’t find it to be in the same league as “Boyhood” or “The Theory of Everything”. Still the money I spent to see “Selma” was money well spent and I do recommend seeing it in the theatre. It is good on its own a film, it’s good as a history lesson and it’s good as a place measuring stick for how far we’ve come and how far we have to go in terms of racism in America in the year 2014.

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