21 February 2015

Selma

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr in "Selma"
I got to see "Selma" on Thursday afternoon. Directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, it focuses on the city of Selma in Alabama during the summer of 1965. A civil rights march is planned from Selma to the state capital - Montgomery. It's all about pressurising the  authorities to  roll back layers of institutionalised southern  racism and allow disenfranchised black people the right to vote.

The role of President Lyndon B. Johnson is played magnificently by Yorkshire-born actor Tom Wilkinson and of course the lead actor Oyelowo is also English. This slightly puzzling English  factor was reminiscent of "Twelve Years a Slave".

I thought that "Selma" was a brilliant film and half a dozen times as I gazed at the screen in the cinema darkness, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was weeping about the wrongness of racism and the cruelty that so often accompanies it and because I was ashamed that my species - the human race can at times be so inhuman. If a film grabs you like that it's saying something.

David Oyewolo was very convincing as Dr King - not only when he delivered his rousing political sermons but also as he wrestled with the demons of his private life and the likelihood that one day the American establishment would take its ultimate revenge. Death never seemed far away. It is outrageous that Oyewolo is not nominated for best actor at tomorrow's Oscars when Bradley Cooper has got the nod for his part in the truly awful  and gratuitous "American Sniper".

There's a scene early in "Selma" when four black girls in a Montgomery baptist church are chattering about hairstyles as they descend the stairs by a beautiful stained glass window.  There's an almighty blast which fills the cinema and darkens the screen. When the dust clears you see the mangled bodies of these girls in  the debris. This outrage happened on September 15th 1963 but the legal ramifications were still very apparent as planning began for the 1965 Montgomery march 

(As an aside and as I said before some time ago in this blog, our daughter Frances helped to clean up the broken glass from that self-same stained glass window when she worked at The Civil Rights Centre in  Birmingham, Alabama back in 2011. She also visited Selma soon after arriving in Alabama as part of her induction programme)

"Selma " is an important film that should from now on be required viewing in all American high schools for the shadow of racism still lingers and Martin Luther King Jr's dream has not  yet been realised. It was fifty miles from Selma to Montgomery but it's much further to the promised land.

8 comments:

  1. When I first saw something about the film on telly a while ago, I thought of you and that this was probably a film you were going to see and then write about it on your blog. As you say, an important film that should become part of high schools' curriculums; maybe not only in the US.

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    1. You have developed the ability to read me like a book Miss Arian...or maybe a film script. And yes, not just American high schools.

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  2. I agree with Meike. Not just in the US. Some of the most loathsome people I'm aware of are white and English. Unfortunately prejudice whether it be religious, racist, or country-centric is rife everywhere. And it is just as horrible wherever it appears and whatever form it takes.

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    1. I hope you are not including me in your loathsome white English group for I am cuddly and lovable - like a big stuffed Yorkshire terrier.

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  3. I've a lot of movies to catch up on seeing...and this is one.

    That behaviour by the Chelsea football fans the other day was despicable and disgusting...it never ceases.

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    1. Sometimes racism is only papered over. In English football we like to think that we have left the bad old days of bananas and monkey noises behind...but it's still there even if it is less overt. To be a true non-racist the feeling has to be deep in your heart.

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  4. I was a senior in high school in 1965. The war in Vietnam and the war over racism in the U.S. were two issues that fueled our youthful enthusiasm and inspired us to think for ourselves and DO something. I have not seen the equivalent of that in any generation of young people since. I see a population around me that is more color blind, and that does not blindly support the war du jour, but is incapable of an original thought and terrified of publicly standing up for anything. Except the right to own guns. Lots of guns. We did not overcome.

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    1. You would probably weep more than I did if you went to see "Selma" Jan. Whatever happened to rebellion and the political power of youth? Or was the baton passed to Islam?

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