Selma Blu-ray Review
The word timely is probably thrown around too much to describe a movie. It is the go to word to describe a movie set in the past, but that reflects what is going on now. SELMA is a film that deserves that recognition. You can say that things are better now in race relations than they were in the past, but events crop up to show us that we still have a long way to go.
Director Ava DuVernay has a great command of the subject at hand. She starts off the film with three very different scenes. You have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Sweden. Four little black girls in a Birmingham church bombing are shown to jarring effect. And then you have Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempting to register to vote. She filled out the forms correctly and then is put through ridiculous questioning that was put in place so that she would be denied. This is the backdrop of SELMA and sets the stage of what was to come.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation. It did not however solve the problem of discrimination regarding voting registration. King Jr. approached President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) about the issue, but was rebuffed. It was to be put on the back burner at this time. Much criticism of this film revolved around the portrait of Johnson as obstructing in this fight. There may have been scenes that veered somewhat from the truth. Their relationship was complicated and it accurately shows that on the screen. The whole controversy was overblown.
King Jr along with other Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) members travels to Selma to get things done in the voting rights movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had been working on this issue for a few years and made some progress on this front. This causes a conflict between King Jr. and this group. The SNCC thought that he was overstepping his bounds in coming there when they were already firmly entrenched.
DuVernay and Screenwriter Paul Webb paint a full picture of the movement. It is not glossed over and not always presented as one big happy family. King Jr. is the most recognizable figure during this time, but equal time is also given to such luminary figures as Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), Andrew Young (Andre Holland), James Orange (Omar Dorsey), Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson), Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce), James Bevel (Common) and John Lewis (Stephan James). Lewis is a part of SNCC and he sided more with King’s tactics than that of James Forman (Trai Breyers) who had several disagreements with King Jr and his ways.
A confrontation is shown between marchers and the police when they go to register people at the courthouse. Cooper memorably punches notorious figure Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) when he assaults other people. This leads to the arrest of King Jr and many others. Webb presents a conflicted King Jr who most certainly had his doubts on some days. His doubts get even bigger when a young man is killed after state troopers broke up a night march in Marion, Alabama. This confrontation was orchestrated by Alabama governor George Wallace (Tim Roth). Wallace and not Johnson is really the villain in this piece. He is stuck in his ways and doesn’t want progress to be made in his neck of the woods.
A decision is made to march from Selma to Montgomery. This leads to a bloody confrontation at Edmund Pettus Bridge as the marchers are beaten by state troops with billy clubs, tear gas and whips. The whole affair is captured on television and seen by millions. The group decides to take their action to the courts, so they can march peaceably without interference. After a halted second march, the third march with the court order in hand comes off without a hitch.
This is the first time that King Jr. is the main protagonist in a motion picture. That is surprising since he is such an important figure in the 20th century. Oyelowo plays him perfectly. He has the speech pattern just right and also the way he moved so confidently. It is a remarkable achievement. You will be moved by the speeches that he does. King Jr. is shown as not a perfect man. His rock of a wife Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) has several disagreements with King Jr about his extra martial affairs and the casual way that King Jr seems to approach death. This elevates the film and shows that King Jr. was a flawed man with his doubts, concerns and his wondering eye. When you peel back the layers of an icon, you get the real person.
I also liked how DuVernay didn’t use composite characters that biopics tend to do at times. These were all living breathing characters. Some of them are still around and making a difference in people’s lives. One of my favorite scenes is with King Jr and other key members of his group. They are discussing how to create legislation for what will become The Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is presented in a clear and precise manner that is easy to understand.
Director of Photography Bradford Young should also be lauded for his camera work. There’s a beautiful shot of Edmund Pettus Bridge as you sweep down from the top of it. The scene where the marchers are attacked is presented in such a visual fashion where you see confusion and terror. You also see menace from the troopers. It is breathtaking.
SELMA is a powerful film of a turbulent time. As recent events have shown, there is still work to be done in race relations. This movie should be shown in class rooms in what can be done when you know something is not right.
Video: The blues and reds of the Oval Office and the yellows and greens of the 60s shines through.
Audio: The sound could be hard to hear especially in the jail house scenes.
Commentary by Director Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo: These two concentrate more on the acting choices and the times.
Commentary by Director Ava DuVernay, Director of Photography Bradford Young and Editor Spencer Averick: This commentary delves into the technical aspects of the movie.
The Road to Selma (13:16): This feature discusses Oyelowo’s journey to the role. There is also talk of the importance of Oprah Winfrey in the making of the film. It also touches on how DuVernay got involved and her importance to the movie.
Recreating Selma (26:29): This fascinating feature delves deeper into the real life people involved in this fight. You also learn about the locations and what was involved there.
Historical: You can go through newsreels and images of the time.
Selma Student Tickets: Donor Appreciation (2:57): This is basically a listing of some of the people and organizations involved in the ticket initiative.
National Voting Rights Museum and Institute (7:50): This is another great piece gone over by the historian of the museum. He talks about the movement, pictures, audio and even a recreation of a jail cell in Selma from that period.
Selma Discussion Guide: This is text on the movement and discussion points from the movie.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (29:43): You get to see the scene with the entertainer singing to MLK drawn out. You also see the aftermath of the assault on MLK by the white supremacist. There are cast improvisations as well as this hit the stand.
“Glory” Music Video