Frances Winston feels this film is a compelling watch, in spite of the realistic portrayals of racism against the black community
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, , Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Stephan James, Wendell Pierce, Common, Alessandro Nivola, Keith Stanfield, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Dylan Baker, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
You always know that its awards’ season when a glut of biopics and fact-based dramas hit our screens. This offering has a worthier pedigree than some however, telling as it does the story of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, famously led by, amongst others, Martin Luther King Jr. (played here by Oyelowo). This was a huge moment in the American Civil Rights Movement, and as such has been well documented, and actual real footage of the March is used near the end of the film, juxtaposed with the recreation.
At the heart of this story though is the passion of Luther King Jr. and how his commitment to the cause affected him and his family. Also central to the plot are his complex negotiations with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Wilkinson).
The contentious period has been so well-documented that there is no point in giving a recap here. Suffice to say that DuVernay doesn’t shy away from the unsavory aspects of the tale, including the beatings and outrageous racism inflicted on the African American community, and their supporters. This sometimes makes Selma a difficult, but nonetheless compelling, watch.
Of course, movies such as this live and die by their lead actor, and in Oyelowo they have found a perfect Martin Luther King Jr. After just a few minutes, you forget that you are watching an actor, and are totally engaged in his world. Ejogo is also wonderful as his wife, Coretta, managing to successfully play several emotions at once, as she struggles to support her husband amidst concerns for her family’s safety. Why the pair of them weren’t nominated for Oscars is a mystery. They are ably backed by an extremely strong supporting cast, who all give excellent performances. Of course, it helps that all the real life counterparts they are portraying were strong and interesting characters, and that this period of history was so explosive.
There have been accusations that some historical facts were distorted, but the reality is that in any fact-based film, there will always be a little artistic licence taken, in order to progress the tale.
This is beautifully shot, and with an excellent script, even though you know what’s coming, this keeps you gripped. A nice touch, at the end, is when we find out just what happened to some of the protesters, who were there on the fateful day of the march. Of course, we all know the ultimate fate of Martin Luther King Jr., but what happened to his contemporaries isn’t as well known.
Although nominated, with such a strong field competing for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, this is unlikely to win, but it is definitely a deserving contender, and a film that deserves to be seen. This will resonate with you long after you leave the cinema, and will no doubt open the doors for much debate about civil rights. Definitely a modern classic.
In cinemas now!