Arts Review, Movies
Ava Du Vernay, director
Paul Webb, script
Starring: David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.; Tom Wilkinson (Lyndon B. Johnson), Tim Roth (George Wallace), Common (James Bevel), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Bayard Rustin) Carmen Ojogo as Coretta Scott King; Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Fred Gray), Wendell Pierce (Hosea Williams)
Set during the Selma, Alabama protests—a key moment in the 1960s civil rights movement—Ava Du Vernay’s first major feature Selma is a very old fashioned drama with lots of people making speeches to each other, justifying what they’re doing. While this makes sense for Dr. Martin Luther King, who was a preacher, too many other people speak in similar tone—or worse, as if they are in a very didactic university play. What’s excellent is the conception of King as a person who is quite conflicted. You can see that he’s worried about what he’s doing, getting his African-American flock to protest, knowing that they are facing bodily harm and even death. (The scene recreating the famous “Bloody Sunday” beatings on a bridge in Selma is particularly vivid and terrifying). The relationship between Martin and his wife Coretta is also complex, with both negotiating around the philandering that Dr. King was known to do when the opportunity presented itself to him.
Selma’s bad points: the excellent actors Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth don’t even try to put on Southern accents and don’t feel at all correct as President Johnson and Governor Wallace, respectively.
Selma’s good points: The film does highlight an amazingly dramatic time leading up to the passing the Voting Rights Act, which truly brought democracy to the American South.
The skinny: This will be a big hit in the States where the Civil Rights Movement is an important time in history. In Canada, it won’t happen in the same way, unless Selma wins a few Oscars.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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