Discussing the topic of racial inequality in America is pretty much one of the most hazardous things a person can do, right up there with swimming in nuclear waste and drinking paint. Whether the discussion takes place at a coffee shop or on the internet, you’ll be lucky if the worst you encounter is someone minimizing brutal violence against African-Ameircans by noting “#alllivesmatter” It’s an endlessly frustrating scenario, but it’s far, far from the worst thing the tragedy of racial inequality has begat.
To paraphrase, I believe, Sean O’Neal of The AV Club, the epitome of white privilege is being aggravated by events like Darren Wilson getting pardoned instead of being terrified, and it’s the kind of statement that’s full of infinite truth. African-Americans have and still do face racially motivated injustice in this country, and Selma shows the wide gamut of emotions that face a man like Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) as he fights against such prominent racial inequality in the 60’s.
Selma smartly takes a cue from biopics like Lincoln and center the film only on a short period of time in Dr. King’s life (him organizing a march involving the residents of Selma, Alabama), rather than trying to look at the entire scope of his life. That’s a great choice, as it keeps the movie focused and allows for any given audience to become more invested in the features characters and their plights. Martin especially benefits from setting the story in this particular time in history, as in private the long length of time he’s been campaigning for equality wears on the man at times.
Those extremely effective moments do wonders for humanizing Martin, but where he really comes alive in this feature is in his speeches. A pivotal part of why Dr. King was able to accomplish so much in his life was due to his skills at expatiating in an engaging manner, which the film translates in a stunning manner. The speeches he gives in the film are full of power and especially rightful anger, as the death of those who follow him in his peaceful protests lends his words lively energy fueled by fury.
David Oyelowo is commanding as the lead, and director Ava Duvernay does an excellent job at making sure he’s not the only cast member to put great work into the feature. I was actually really impressed by Carmen Ejogo as Coretta King, who as you can likely tell is the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Here’s a potentially thankless role that Paul Webb’s screenplay gives plenty of depth to, with a standout scene being where she confronts Martin after a monumental phone call. Tom Wilkinsons turn as Lyndon B. Johnson left me mystified, mainly at where in the hell the controversy over his character came from. He’s depicted in a nuanced manner that Wilkinson does aces with, and his no-BS personality really comes alive in a scene towards the movies end with Tim Roth (who plays the Governor of Alabama).
Wilkinsons character is far, far way from what goes down in Selma, Alabama, but the violence that unfolds down there soon spreads to newspaper and television that eventually leaves an impression on him. That violence is depicted in a shocking manner, with Duvernay making sure every punch, every gunshot, every wound leave an impression. She more than succeeds, especially since the movie has quiet moments that guarantees the consequences of the hideous violence leave an impact on both the characters and the viewer.And good Lord does it, and Selma as a whole, manage to leave a massive impact, especially an ending that subverts the typical conclusion of biopics by concluding the movie on an appropriately somber and haunting note. Good luck not feeling the impact of it’s final moments after seeing it, or any given moment of Selma really