SELMA is Not Just Brilliant But Right On Time
I was invited to a private screening of the SELMA movie by Paramount Pictures and Ava DuVernay in New York in November and I didn’t just cry during the film. I wept. I ugly-cried like I wasn’t sitting in a room with 40 other people. But everyone else was in tears too so I let it flow (word to Toni). I didn’t have any tissues with me so I used my pashmina to dry my face. It was soaked by the end.
I knew it’d be an emotional movie but I didn’t think it would dropkick me in the chest throughout like it did. I’ve cried during scenes of movies but I’ve never cried throughout most of a movie like I did during this one.
As I watched this movie about events from 1965, I was so hurt that we’re still fighting for the right to live in 2014. My feelings were in the gutter because people are still marching today for basic rights. The fighters who came before us probably didn’t think they were fighting so we wouldn’t have to.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, SELMA is a snapshot of the events that happened in the three months of 1965 that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Alabama trying to get Black people the right to vote. It chronicles the things that happened leading to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, which led to President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
SELMA is not about MLK the hero; it’s about the movement. It humanizes him and brings him down from demigod status, showing that he was a flawed visionary who needed to be picked up even as he fought because he got tired. He was backed, advised and counseled every step of the way by men like Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, James Orange. They shared struggles, meals and even jail cells with Dr. King. Women are typically completely erased from the story too, but this film acknowledges the roles of Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Mahalia Jackson and Viola Liuzzo.
MLK was a man at the front of a movement but he was not THE movement, because nobody was. The Civil Rights Movement was collective-driven, and SELMA gives that much-needed credit.
I loved SELMA from start to finish and I loved that it was so thoughtful. That’s because Ava’s always handles her work with care. From the casting to the story to the speeches to the look, SELMA is brilliance personified. Stories involving MLK have been told in 1,000 different ways and this has been my favorite yet. That credit also goes to David Oyelowo, who was amazing as the revered leader.
The British-Nigerian Oyelowo nailed the icon’s voice and cadence, which is no small feat to do (so he is now elevated to bae status in my book). He is a phenomenal actor and every nomination he’s received for this film was well-earned. He even gained weight to fit into MLK’s shoes (and suit).
This movie was truly about teamwork because the supporting cast is just as great. I was SO impressed by Carmen Ejogo’s portrayal as Coretta Scott King. Not only did she look exactly like her, but she brought some fervor to her part that seemed fitting. Being the wife of Dr. King meant living in constant fear and the scenes between Carmen and David were so good!
There are some heavy hitters in this film, like Wendell Pierce and legendary Lorraine Toussaint, who played Amelia Boynton. She is an actor’s actor and she ALWAYS brings it. We met at the screening and chatted for a while and she’s officially BFF in my head. When you meet someone who you’ve admired from afar for years and not only is she gracious but she is grounded, you can’t help but love them even more. We totally go together now.
At the screening, after the movie ended, Ava got in front of the room with a handful of the cast and crew of SELMA. She gave profuse thanks and credit to the people who committed to tell this story with her and that was uber dope. It was consistent with the collective spirit of this movie. One of the men who worked on the film stood next to her and told us “I’ve worked on 40 movies. But I feel like this was my first FILM.” Such high praise. Salute.
SELMA is well made, it’s deliberate and although it’s about then, it is for now. This film feels right because it comes at a time where we need what it is telling. As another Black man is killed by police (last night, it was Antonio Martin), and people are taking to the streets to say “no justice, no peace” and “hands up, don’t shoot,” SELMA is being released. Black bodies are still being devalued. STILL. ALREADY. AGAIN. This film reminds us that what we’re up against isn’t new and the fight isn’t either. But we can make strides. We have to #MarchOn. From Selma to Ferguson.
There are scenes in this film that made me gasp out loud and I winced so many times. It did not shy away from making us watch violence because it’s important that we see what racism and hate did and does. It hurts. It wounds. It kills. This is why we’re still marching. State-sanctioned hate is still killing us every 28 hours.
I’m so glad this movie exists. I’m so glad a Black woman is behind it. And I’m so glad it’s on time. Ava DuVernay (who is #ForeverBae. I love she) and her team (including producer Oprah Winfrey) did something amazing and special with the oft-told story of MLK with SELMA and it is a MUST SEE. I was enraged yet inspired and pissed yet hopeful. I was moved.
There is a screening for SELMA happening in Chicago on January 6 at 7pm and I have 10 pairs of tickets to give away to my readers. To be eligible to win, you have to leave a comment with the name of a Black American Civil Rights leader who is NOT named here, and not named Malcolm X (he makes an appearance in the film too, BTW).
I will pick winners by Friday, December 26, 2014 and send them an email to let them know, with next steps.