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Three Views: Selma

January 9, 2015

Selma Poster

Selma – A Paramount Pictures Release

Release Date: January 9th, 2015
Rated PG for mature themes, violence and language
Running Time: 127 minutes

Ava DuVernay (director)

Paul Webb (writer)

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr.
Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King
Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper
Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson
Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White
André Holland as Andrew Young
Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy
Common as James Bevel
Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton
Wendell Pierce as Rev. Hosea Williams
Stephen James as John Lewis
Keith Stanfield as Jimmie Lee Jackson
Henry G. Sanders as Cager Lee
Tim Roth as Gov. George Wallace


Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), Andrew Holland (André Holland) and John Lewis (Stephan James) in Selma.

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Selma Review By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Featuring a brilliant performance from David Oyelowo, perfectly embodying Martin Luther King Jr. and citing divine inspiration for allowing him to take on the role, Selma is one of the most important films of 2014.  This is an impeccably staged period piece that stirringly recreates the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, while powerfully showing how the fight for equality continues to this day.

The year is 1965 and Martin Luther King Jr. is putting pressure on President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to tear down the archaic laws preventing minority groups from being able to vote.  The film charts the events leading up to and directly after the historic march from the largely bigoted Selma, Alabama to state capital Montgomery, which saw thousands of people take to the streets in solidarity, and culminated with the passing of the Voting Rights Act.

Although this is only her third narrative feature, Ava DuVernay directs the film with bold and distinctive style, making some stunning choices behind the camera.  The cinematography by Bradford Young provides some of the most evocative images of any movie this year, and the choice to show four moments of shocking violence in slow motion allows the haunting affect of these scenes to permeate throughout the rest of the film.  There are many moments here that continue to linger, including the powerfully recreated title march, which provides some of the most unforgettable sequences.

But Selma is also a biopic that is fascinating for its inclusion of the quiet moments and conversations that affectively show the humanity behind this iconic historical figure, in a way that deserves comparison to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  Martin Luther King Jr. is portrayed as a complex man, and through scenes with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), like a quietly charged dramatic moment where she questions his fidelity, we see a different side of him than what is presented in the history books.

Although some historians have found inaccuracies with the depiction of President Johnson, particularly in showing his involvement with the FBI at the time, this is beside the point of the film.  This is meant as an interpretation of the tricky behind the scenes politics, and Selma offers an incredibly articulate look at all the pieces that had to fall into place before the signing of the Voting Rights Act.  The film smartly shows the small moments along the way that helped burn the embers of this revolution, and how both sides affectively used the media, through television broadcasts and front page images.

What makes Selma such a monumental achievement is the way that Ava DuVernay has so vividly recreated these events, in a way that draws powerful comparisons to modern day issues.  This includes the heartbreaking police shooting of unarmed activist Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield), and in another shocking sequence, the Birmingham church bombing that claimed the lives of four girls.  There is a sense of universal relevance to these images, and the fact that they recall recent events in Ferguson and New York, might just be the point of the film.

This is about bridging the gap between Civil Rights then and now, showing not only how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.  And by the time the John Legend and Common song “Glory” plays over archival footage at the end, these events are powerfully carried over into the modern world, allowing Selma to resonate with the moving message that we never stop marching until true equality is achieved.

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Selma Review by Erin Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting rights march from Selma to Mongomery, Alabama in 1965, Selma is a moving and empowering film about a moment that changed history, and is very apt to remember as injustice still prevails in various forms today.

After an incredibly shocking and jarring opening scene, Selma focuses very much on Martin Luther King, (David Oyelowo) showing both his public and private persona.  The way the film is structured, we are left with a sense of tension throughout, appropriate for the feeling of the marchers as a simple quiet protest could very quickly turn deadly in this time and place.

The filming is very well done, the shots framed to create the feeling that we are right with the characters, and the performances are deserving of the attention they get.  Directed by Ava DuVernay, a young director to watch in the coming years, Selma is a film that feels like it could easily have been made by someone with decades worth of experience.

While like most historical films every detail is not exact, Selma succeeds in providing an emotional connection for people to a time in history that is important to be remembered, and a very honest and moving portrayal of Martin Luther King.  The significance of the fact that the film was filmed on the same bridge integral to the march, and with some of the original marchers as extras cannot be lost as well.  Those from middle school to adulthood should seek this one out.

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Selma Review By Tony Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Selma is about the 1965 campaign to get equal voting rights for African Americans centered around the mass march from Selma, AL to the state capital Montgomery. Except for opening scenes depicting brutality and the near impossibility of blacks to get on the voting list, contrasted with the ceremony in which Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, the film concentrates on King and his colleagues.

Selma was particularly hostile to their cause, and King had to balance militancy with non-violence using all his powers of persuasion, both in public appearances and negotiations with authorities going right up to President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). Johnson was sympathetic but facing fierce opposition from Alabama governor Wallace (Tim Roth) was not as motivated to act as King wanted. King is also seen in quiet moments alone and relaxing with family and friends, with only hints of the alleged philandering that put a strain on his marriage with Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo).

Remarkably, the four roles mentioned so far are all well played by British actors, and the rest of the cast is fine. After various other actors and directors were considered, Ava DuVernay took over in her first major studio project as director. The result is a good account of an important historical moment that will no doubt resonate today in America, and much like other recent films such as Lincoln, is required viewing in high schools and elsewhere forever.

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Consensus: With a brilliant performance from David Oyelowo, and powerful direction by Ava DuVernay, Selma is a gripping and moving recreation of historic events from the Civil Rights movement, that should be required viewing for everyone. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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