After watching Selma, you’ll wonder why Ava DuVernay was not nominated for Best Director and why David Ojewolo missed out on a Best Actor nomination. There’s quite abit of controversy surrounding this. Whether it’s because there’s a lack of diversity in the academy (94% White, 64% Men, average age of 63) or because Ava and crew did not submit the film in time(tapes didn’t reach some of the awards voters), Selma remains a powerful and moving film. Despite the cries of some over the inacurracies of the portrayal of Lyndon B Johnson, let’s be honest, no film is perfect. Instead of focusing on these trivialities, let’s talk about why Selma is one epic film.
2014 was a year that’s infamous with the numerous cases involving cops shooting black teenagers. Selma couldn’t come at a better time where it challenges us to reflect on what we really are as a society and what we stand for. It depicts the roots of the great man himself, the foundations of his vision and how he championed those values. Society today is still to some degree, far from what MLK had envisioned. Being screened near MLK’s birthday, we don’t just celebrate a great american hero but remind ourselves as a society, to be better.
The way that MLK is portrayed in Selma is not over the top. In fact, he’s easy to identify with because we see a sense of vulnerability. We also see his practicality and shrewdness in his decisions, so he’s not glorified excessively. It’s simply because he’s relatable that it makes him an even greater hero. I really liked how DuVernay directed her film. Even though it’s reserved, there are moments where frames are slowed down significantly, namely to dramatize violence. Now maybe I’m being biased here, but I personally love this technique. Often underused, it’s also underestimated. DuVernay has connected with us on a deeply personal level. The violence is sometimes unpredictable, but when it shows itself, it is unreserved and relentless. By slowing the pace of violent scenes, every moment weighs significantly more, every savage act of tyranny and racism more despicable, and every lifeless body a reminder that this cause is one worth fighting and dying for. It’s heartfelt, tear-jerking, and highly cathartic for viewers too.
Ava DuVernay has decided to base Selma on the relatively short time frame where MLK lead the march from Selma to Montgomery. Needless to say the collective march toward freedom and rights is highly symbolic, and is one of the thematic concerns in the movie. Now this is why Selma is truly an epic. Dr.King and his people are beaten to bloodied states over and over, but the message conveyed in the film is clear; We will continue to fight for freedom and justice. The morale of victims have been undermined, the cause looks doomed to fail; But we’ll fight for our rights. It is this collective determination by Dr.King and his people, conveyed to us in such a down-to-earth register, that makes Selma a true tour de force.
Moving to the casting, one only has praises. David Oyelowo is exceptional as Dr.King, he’s emotionally stirring, shrewd, humble and yet vulnerable and flawed. Out of all the biopics this year, David Oyelowo takes the top spot in my books. He doesn’t hide any of his human flaws, and carries all the nuances of character throughout the entire film. Carmen Ejogo acted well as Coretta Scott King (wife) as we see her struggle to sustain peace within her family in times of distress. Lorraine Toussaint and Oprah Winfrey were fantastic in depicting the everyman(or woman in this case), and the very real issues they face as a black man/woman during those times. The other cast members who take on the roles of King’s advisors like Andre Holland (Andrew) and Common (James Bevel) make up the face and frontline of King’s movement.
Selma is not a gritty movie in the usual sense. It derives this quality from the humblest of beginnings, like when Andrew and Dr.King have an emotional chat in the car, or when Dr.King and team interact, trying ever so hard day after day to devise a winning strategy. Ava DuVernay’s captures the most glorious moments of brilliance in the esprit de corps of the people in Selma, as they march in humble numbers but with a strong unified vision.
Rating: 9.4/10 One of the strongest contenders for the best movie of the year. Selma is by far, the best biopic this year.