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Selma ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Selma

Selma ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In the American South of the 1960s, black citizens were guaranteed the right to vote but were systematically denied the right to register to vote by a system controlled by white officials. (If you can’t register, you can’t vote.) The new movie, Selma, is about the struggle to right this wrong and about the symbolic fifty-mile protest march from Selma to Montgomery that galvanized the country’s attention.

To politicians of the day, suppression of black voters in the South was a political football they preferred to stay away from. When Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) seeks the help of the sitting president, Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, the actor who seems to be able to play any part, from Ben Franklin to a transgendered woman), he (Johnson) wants to defer the matter to a future time, believing the country has more pressing problems, such as the Vietnam War and poverty. The demagogic governor of Alabama, George Wallace (a snarling Tim Roth), seems unable to effectively deal with racial issues in his state. He wants the president to handle the matter, while the president dresses Wallace down for not handling it on a state level. When the protesters, mostly black but some white, attempt to cross the bridge over the Alabama River, led by Dr. King, there is a bloody melee with an all-white police force. When the story and its accompanying images are beamed across the national airwaves, people everywhere are suddenly paying attention to what is happening in the South and waiting for what happens next.

Of course, the focus of Selma is Dr. Martin Luther King, his life and struggles. In the many scenes between him and his wife, we sense a tension between them and get the impression that their marriage is not all it should be. (These interior scenes are, for some reason, grungy-looking and dark.) Dr. King’s well-publicized marital infidelities are played down. (The couple’s children are nonentities, mentioned in passing and seen only from a distance.) Dr. King seems to not know that the FBI is snooping on him, listening in on his private conversations, seeking to destroy his family and his life. Once again, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI is the villain.

Selma is a history lesson wrapped up as mainstream entertainment. How historically accurate is it? Only those who were there and remember the events as they happened can say for sure. What is known is that President Johnson signed into law in 1965 the Voting Rights Act that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp  

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