Perhaps one of the most unique, yet historically accurate viewing experiences of the past decade, Selma lives up to its Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations with fantastic plot points, acting, and screenplay. The movie covers the events and story of Martin Luther King Jr. and his inner circle during the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery. The audience is given an inside look at what it means to lead the movement for civil rights and what King went through emotionally, mentally, and physically. Much screentime is spent on the marches, but the film is more of a study on the psyche of Martin Luther King, Jr. than a documentary, something I particularly enjoyed. The acting in this film is certainly one of its strong points. Outstanding performances by David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and several members of his inner circle help to bring the struggle of the civil rights movement to life. The screenplay in Selma is also exceptional as the dialogue between the characters truly displays their desire for a fair vote. The emotion and ambition is clearly evident. Every word seemed to add more to either the characters or the story.
Selma’s most enthralling aspect was the character of King. The movie does an amazing job bringing to light many unnamed aspects of leading the civil rights movement. Throughout the events of the film, two of his supporters die due to the marches. The burden of these deaths weighs heavily on King, and he has to deal with his partial responsibility. He struggles with the decision to press forward in the name of the fair black vote. While King battled with this internally, however, he was forced to maintain a front for his movement. His followers could never see him doubt the crusade for the vote, for risk of it all falling apart. All at the same time, he was dealing with family problems. King’s biggest weakness, his infidelity, had come to the attention of his wife. This was one of the most interesting inner turmoils I have witnessed in a movie. Perhaps as a result of not living through this time, I had never considered this side of the events.
King’s interaction with the president at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson, was also a highlight of the movie. King had a full understanding of how politics worked, and he used it to, in a sense, force Lyndon’s support. King knew that he couldn’t beg and plead his way to the front of Johnson’s to-do list. What he had to do was create a news story and create some political pressure. If all of America cared about an issue, then Johnson would need to take care of it immediately. If not, then Johnson, no matter his stance on the issue, would find it difficult to push laws through congress. The conversations between the two that were sprinkled throughout the film were nothing short of enthralling. As the political situation changed from irrelevant to a national headline, the tone between the two changed from partially hostile to almost entirely amicable. This aspect of the movie was extremely unique and enjoyable to watch.
Besides the two aspects defined above, there were numerous features of the movie that I enjoyed. The screenplay was nothing short of fantastic. The dialogue was sophisticated and filled with life, but not so over-the-top that it felt unrealistic. The best example of the fantastic screenplay was King’s speeches throughout the movie. Through his speeches to the black population of Selma, Alabama, the audience could feel the years of strife by the underrepresented blacks of the south. The way that the crowd cheered and hollered at each and every one of his powerful words truly inspired me. King’s closest cronies, such as James Orange and Hosea Williams, played by Omar Dorsey and Hosea Williams, respectively, also had fantastic lines. Their actions and dialogue helped to show just how powerful King was in the movement. What he said was the law, but not by default. He just always knew what to say at the perfect time.
Perhaps the biggest downside of the movie was the lack of fleshed out information about the King investigations and his marital problems. They touched upon these issues and how they were related, but never truly resolved or explained these issues. For example, the movie features an interesting scene involving the FBI feeding his wife a recording of King with another woman. A very grave conversation ensues, but there is never any follow-up. Did the FBI eventually stop these tactics? Did he resolve things with his wife? It comes off as incomplete and perhaps a little bit lazy. Overall, however, these small imperfections are but a scratch on the greatness of Selma. Selma is a fantastic movie that was a true pleasure to watch; it is one of the best films of 2014.