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Awards season reviews: Selma

Another film based on a true story is in focus for my next review, this is Selma.

Selma examines the life of Martin Luther King Jr. (played by David Oyelowo), during the 1965 Freedom Marches in Selma, Alabama. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some areas of the USA are still woefully behind and wracked with discrimination, Selma being no exception. African-American people of Selma are still being declined the right to register to vote. After the vicious murder of three girls and the unprovoked murder of a young man during a night march, the people of Selma embark, with King as their leader, on a number of peaceful protests and marches to fight for equality. These actions, lead by King and his people, antagonise local authorities who counteract with mindless violence, but these malicious acts are caught on camera and distributed around the world, causing utter outrage, thus forcing President Lyndon Johnson to put in place a new bill eliminating restrictions on voting. During his speech he praises the courageous activists and proclaims; “we shall overcome”. A dramatic change of heart, for at the start of the film Johnson outwardly discourages the acts of King and the marches, denying King any support in their various meetings. But another hurdle is overcome and the people of Selma propel the rest of the USA, and the world, that bit closer to complete equality.

I had yet to see a biographical film on King’s life and didn’t think that was the premise of Selma, so that came as a pleasant surprise, but it also outlined yet another series of freedom fights I was unaware of. So I want to thank the makers of Selma for telling a story that has yet to be told, but is so profoundly important. It’s an incredibly deep and involved story of events with many different people and politics combined, some of which have been criticised for a lack of historical accuracy. I’m not going to pretend I know all the ins and outs of the Civil Rights Act and all the politics surrounding King’s confused relationship with Lyndon Johnson, because I know very little. From what I’ve read, the conversations in the film between these two highly influential men are taken from a selection of King’s writings almost word for word, yet other people claim it happened differently. I guess we shall never know, but the film gives a good insight into the turbulent fight for equality through the eyes of small town Selma. And that’s what I’m going to take away from this film.

Its brilliantly acted, with Oyelowo, an English actor, portraying King so effortlessly. Taking on a historical figure such as King and tackling a true story that is so involved in such an open and honest manner deserves some recognition. King’s tormented, yet supportive, wife is played excellently by Carmen Ejogo. Her internal struggle between admiring her husband for the freedom fighter and Civil Rights leader he is and resenting him for the things he’s done to her single-handedly demonstrates the darker side to King’s story and Ejogo drives it without having to say too much. It’s a crying shame neither actor received a nod for best actor or actress because they truly deserve it. In a roundabout way, they do receive some praise in the films best picture nomination, but what everyone seems to be talking about is the music and it’s likely to win best original song for John Legend and Common’s ‘Glory’, especially as it took the win at the Golden Globes. It has stormed its way to the winning podium at other award ceremonies but at the big ones, the Baftas, Screen Actors Guild etc., recognition has been scarce. So I’ll solemnly wait to see John Legend being the only face of Selma taking the stage on awards night.


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