Sunday, January 11, 2015

Selma (USA, 2014)

                Nine Things About the Movie Selma

1. This movie is called "Selma", not "King". While Dr. Martin Luther King is the main character in this movie, it's really about the 1965 protest march to overcome restrictions on allowing blacks to vote. So it covers a lot more than just him.

2. I'm not an expert on this area of history; but from what I do know, the movie stays fairly close to the facts. The biggest problem with historical accuracy is the movie's negative portrayal of President Johnson. He wasn't obstructing King's movement, and he didn't assign the FBI to spy on MLK (the previous president did that). They got along a lot better than the movie claims.

3. In 2009, the King estate sold the rights to MLK's speeches to another Hollywood studio for a movie to be made by Steven Spielberg. So this movie wasn't allowed to use MLK's actual speeches. They had to invent new ones that said basically the same things, but without violating copyright.

4. Reportedly, some white people hired as extras in the movie found out that they were supposed to play racists. They politely asked to switch roles, and were changed to marchers.

5. The movie does a great job of showing the nuances of the situation - the black civil rights movement was not a unified front. There were turf issues, competing tactics, and even disagreement on exactly what they were trying to accomplish. It's also honest enough to show the sometimes cynical side of activism - the cold calculations of how and when to do things, in order to maximize media coverage and sympathy from other people.

6. There are a few scenes that are overly dramatic and sanctimonious, but that's to be expected in a movie like this. And they really didn't distract from the bigger picture.

7. It's ironic that in this film of such an iconic piece of American history, the roles of Dr. King, his wife, the president, and governor George Wallace are all played by British actors.

8. If you think this movie makes white people look bad, or if it makes you angry at white people, you have missed the point. And you also aren't really paying attention.

9. As far as historical dramas go, this one is better than most. It's smart, interesting, confrontational when it needs to be, and much more nuanced than you might expect. It's a great addition to cinematic portrayals of American history and the struggle for justice.