Director: Ava DuVernay
Original Release: 2014
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by David Oyelowo) is, of course, the film's central figure. Without a doubt, King is one of the most extraordinary leaders in American history. I was a little worried in the beginning that hero worship - a potential pitfall for any biographical work - might interfere with an honest portrayal. But Selma frames King as a multi-dimensional human being: political titan, certainly, but also husband (and not always a faithful one), father and minister. In one of the most powerful scenes, King comforts the father of a young protester killed by a state trooper with simple words: "God was the first to cry for your boy."
King's exceptional oratorical skill stemmed largely from a powerful voice and an instinct for cadence but he should also be remembered as an amazing writer. If Selma has a flaw, it is the fact that King's speeches had to be rewritten. To be fair, this is not the filmmakers' fault. DreamWorks and Warner Bros. own the license to the originals for an untitled Spielberg project. King's life was overdue as a subject for a major film. If Spielberg is working on one, too, Selma has set a very high bar.
- The movie's violence is certainly brutal but it could have been a lot worse. Mississippi Burning, for instance, is a far more terrifying film. I think Selma did a nice job of balancing between horror and hope in the civil rights movement.
- There is some language - the Purple Penguin counted two f-bombs from LBJ, a modest total in light of the man's well-documented reputation.
- Our daughter is eleven years old which I worried was a little on the young side. But it occurred to me afterwards that I was taken to see both The Chosen and Gandhi when I was nine. Those movies were my introductions to the Holocaust and Indian independence respectively. Both are at least as upsetting as Selma. Film is as good a medium as any to learn of the evil humans can exact upon one another.