Forget “Boyhood” and “American Sniper.” If you want to watch a movie that accurately represents American politics, humanity and idealism, watch “Selma.” It’s the most tragic, brutal, honest, controversial and outright horrifying American movie I’ve seen.
“Selma” is an account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s (David Oyelowo) attempt to organize a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in protest against the government’s systematic attempt to stamp out black voting rights.
The movie begins at the height of Martin Luther King’s notoriety. King has claimed the heart of the black caucus and the ear of the American government. He’s successfully lobbied the creation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and earned global recognition for his advocacy of peaceful, nonviolent protest. However, he’s also drawn ire from the CIA, President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and every state government and county municipality south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Progress is being made, but the cost is mounting.
The movie’s director (and uncredited co-writer), Ava DuVernay (a black woman), plops the audience right in the center of a tumultuous storm of political maneuvering and grassroots violence.
LBJ, vindicated by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is intent on putting the civil rights movement behind him. He wants to focus on a new, ambitious program: the War on Poverty.
MLK, knowing that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the first in a series of necessary pieces of legislation, is attempting to divert LBJ’s attention toward another issue plaguing black Americans: their inability to vote.
“Selma” carries a lot of weight. It doesn’t need to be critically nitpicked for flaws in direction or acting or writing or lighting; it holds its own. It’s one of those movies that starts a conversation about its topics, and it’s one of the few movies I’ve seen that actually exists parallel to the problems in America now.
Critics and historical scholars have recently targeted the movie for inaccurately representing LBJ’s opinion of the voting rights movement. However, their criticism — even if true — doesn’t diminish the film’s political relevance.
Sure, the movie represents a more socially turbulent time in American history, but some of the issues stressed in “Selma” mirror the controversies brewing in modern America.
Politicians still use irrelevant legal arguments to justify the status quo, black Americans still constitute a significant portion of America’s poor and systematic prejudice still diminishes minorities’ abilities to move up the social ladder.
Unfortunately, this kind of perspective doesn’t appear much in Hollywood (the liberal bastion of bleeding-heart satan worship). Most of the directors in Hollywood are white men. I have nothing against white men (I myself am a white man).
However, when most of the movies are made by white men, other demographics (like black women) have a diminished representation in American culture. If a white man had directed this movie it’s unlikely that it would have been nearly as noteworthy.
“Selma” presents a disarming perspective of American politics, moving forward with the conviction of someone who wants to clarify history rather than retell history.
The film does contain flaws, but the flaws are secondary to its vibrant direction and uncharacteristically urgent storytelling. Sure, “American Sniper” might be January’s box office darling, but it’s unlikely that anyone will be talking about it five years down the road (unless they’re talking about ridiculously fake baby mannequins).
“Selma” will probably have a different fate.