Being British, I am not fully familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (MLK) legacy and his path to greatness. Although I didn’t know much about him and about the importance of Selma, I think the film is ideal for the uninformed, like myself.
Toward the start of the film, we see Oprah Winfrey’s character, Annie Lee Cooper, attempting to gain the ability to vote at her local voting office. She is denied the right to vote because she is unable to name all 52 states after correctly answer many U.S. specific questions. It becomes clear that the white male at the voting office doesn’t want her to vote and is making it as hard as possible for her. This small scene is the overlaying theme of the film. The Black people of America want to be allowed the right to vote as stated in the U.S. constitution, however many states, especially in the south, put up barriers to that right. This is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. steps in, as he takes his crusade for civil rights to Selma, a town in Texas, in an attempt to cause enough drama that the president simply cannot ignore.
This film paints a wonderful portrait of MLK as it delves into the makings of the man, rather than the legend. We understand the importance of religion and family to him. We also see how he puts above all the significance of peace and manages to use it as a weapon against violence. The director, Ava DuVernay, does a spectacular job of exploring the identity of MLK by giving him crossroad decisions where we learn the most about his character.
We also get a great supporting cast, although numerous they are effective. When first introduced, many are presented all at once and it is a considerable amount of names and faces to remember. However, as the film carries on you grow to understand each character’s worth and significance to the MLK movement. The scenes where the audience get to listen to highly intelligent individuals, tackling a complex issue in a systematic, strategic manner were some of the best. This is an established movement which isn’t slowing down for anyone.
The biggest strength of this film is how easily it evokes emotion from the audience, having you agree with the obvious, sensible, wise words of MLK, and then showing you the cruel reality of the response to his movement at the time. You leave the film feeling charged and willing to protest. They managed to avoid a film which hated on the ‘white man’, and correctly promoted the idea that we should all attempt to do better. Better for ourselves and better for one another.
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