Oscar Nominee Review: ‘Selma’
Director: Ava DuVernay
Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Roth, Common, Lorraine Toussaint
Plot: Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King comes to loggerheads with US President L.B. Johnson during a time when the black population are legally allowed to vote but face many hurdles and authority figures who feel otherwise. King plans a march from Selma to Montgomery as protest.
Review: This is certainly a movie I came to as an outsider. Coming from the UK and growing up mostly Down Under I have been aware of MLK and his significance in US history but the details of his life and career are largely unknown to me. We did study some of the MLK in Australian high school (as well as learn all the US states and the political structure. Why? Because Australia desperately wants to be American’s best friend) but I came into this movie with only a cursory knowledge of the story.
What comes as the most shocking part of the story in the innate hatred of African American’s depicted in the film, based largely on footage and press coverage from the time. The issue on the table is the right to vote. It’s a basic democratic right and the venom displayed by authorities and the public in trying to keep that right from a racial group is disgusting to say the least. Yes, it’s easy to look at these events and say it was a different time and people have changed and whatnot but the sentiment is echoed in current attitude towards homosexuals.
Selma as a film does an admirable job of bridging an emotional link between the viewer and the historical material. Director DuVernay has shown a lot of restraint in the recreation of violent clashes between protestors and the law, preferring to let the recorded facts speak for themselves. The more explicit moments are saved into later in the film when the already laid ground work allows for the maximum impact. The entire movie is filmed with a steady, considered hand, filled with rich colour and composition.
The biggest name associated with the film is the Biggest Name in American media: Oprah Winfrey. The Big O wisely keeps to side of stage in this project, giving the spotlight to the ensemble of talent who work together to make this film work. The heart of the ensemble is David Oyelowo, turning in a masterful performance as MLK, the historical figure who has become a cultural and political icon. He leads the film with confidence, keeping us in awe of the character while keeping the humanity. Alongside is Oyelowo is another Brit stepping into the role of the US President, Tom Wilkinson, providing a solid foil for King. They do a decent job of presenting LBJ as a man trying to consider the wider interests of his country at the fore but they do slip a bit deeper into villain territory. This has been the only part of the film criticised for historical inaccuracy.
With a strong cast behind them the leads of this ensemble have helped craft an impressive picture.It can even give the viewer pause when King is confronted by his wife questioning whether the cause means more to him than she. Yes, it can be dismissed as Oscar Bait but it’s a great movie whichever way you slice it. It’s worth a look but for historical perspective and a reflection of the discriminations that impact on our world today. It can even give the viewer pause when King is confronted by his wife questioning whether the cause means more to him than she.
Score: NINE out of TEN
Chances of Winning: Historical drama, Martin Luther King and race issues at the fore. Yeah, it’s the one to beat. As much as I’d like to see Birdman or Grand Budapest Hotel win it won’t be a tragedy to see this win.