Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Written by: Paul Webb
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson
I have to admit, this movie was very good, but I didn’t love it. It’s weaknesses are few and far between but it did NOT earn the 100% score it received on Rotten Tomatoes prior to its wide release.
Selma is the story of Martin Luther King Jr’s march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in protest of voter discrimination laws in the state. Hundreds of people joined King on this march which at one point resulted in televised barbaric beatings of his supporters.
Any criticism aside, there are some really beautiful things happening in this film as well. The performances are great. David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King brilliantly. He matches his mannerisms and cadence so organically while still portraying determination and conviction. Oyelowo is surrounded by a group of people matching that caliber. Carmen Ejogo is perfect as Coretta Scott King and if this had been a film more about Dr. King and less about an important pocket of the civil rights movement I think we could have seen much more of her.
You’d be mistaken in assuming that this is a biopic. Selma is far less about Martin Luther King and much more about the march itself. The story is VERY tightly told, almost to a fault. I felt like I walked into the last third of a movie. There was very little room for any complex character development; not for King’s character or any of the supporting characters. I would have loved to see them really humanize Martin Luther King; to learn about the man, his flaws, his quirks, his shortcomings. The film lightly touches on King’s indiscretions and alleged infidelity, but not enough to make it meaningful. Selma was the same iconography of a legend, not a man.
I understand that a portion of the southern white population was absolutely horrific to the African American community for arguably hundreds of years and what occurred from Selma to Montgomery was no exception. That being said, the way this group is depicted is cartoonishly evil. They are whittled down to a sneering army ruled by mob mentality and hate, nothing more. I’m sure that portrayal speaks to some truthful experiences, but it seems more like a literary trope used to make us comfortable; we like to draw a thick, clear line between good and evil when, in reality, life is just one giant grey area. Give me a villain with some complexity and depth; this was all surface.
My favorite part of Selma was the cinematography; excluding Birdman, this is the most beautifully photographed film of the year. Every shot composition is thoughtful and gorgeous while still serving the storyline. It’s not aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics, it has purpose. The imagery on the bridge with people fleeing amongst the smoke and haze is breathtaking. In other nerdy technical aspects, I have to commend the sound editing and foley; the sounds of people being beaten and attacked are so well mixed that it cuts you to the core.
Finally, the original song written for the film by Common and John Legend, “Glory”, is FANTASTIC. You can listen to this song pretty much anywhere online but it’s worth sitting through the credits when you see the movie to enjoy it. It’s beautiful and timely and I just LOVE it.
The Verdict: Selma is a very good film. I wouldn’t say its fantastic or nearly to the caliber of some of the other films I’ve seen this year, but it was very good. My main problems with Selma lie within the screenplay, but they can be overlooked in favor of a well done film that doubles as a powerful history lesson and provokes a poignant perspective about today’s culture clash.
Awards Prospects: After the Oscar nominees were announced this morning, Selma was the first movie to be mentioned for snubs. I am APPALLED that it’s not nominated in the cinematography category. It managed to snag a Best Picture nod with only one other nomination–that is HIGHLY unusual. “Glory” is a near lock for Best Original Song. David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay were pegged as snubs in the Best Actor and Best Director categories, respectively. However, given this year’s competition, I think Selma has been nominated in just the right categories.