Selma (2014)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Selma</strong> (2014)

(On Cable TV, November 2018) I’m really, really glad I waited four years to see Selma, because if I had seen it upon release (or—even worse—during its Oscar run), I would have been sorely tempted to dismiss its appeal as righteous Oscar-bait feel-good progressive tripe. Four years later, as American racism runs resurgent with an unrepentant ruling party cozying with white supremacists and a president who thinks there are “some fine people on both sides” of the racism question, we clearly need to go over the basics again. Racism is bad, discrimination is bad, hate is bad and violence is bad. And if that message hasn’t been dumbed-down or amplified enough so that everyone gets it, then let’s do it again. And again. Until at least a sizeable majority of American voters get it and act accordingly, putting the “economic anxiety” garbage to rest. That’s a lot of baggage to put on Selma, but it’s a film that can take the extra load. Cleverly written by Paul Webb and exceptionally well-directed by Ava Duvernay, it’s a film that describes the Selma-to-Montgomery marches that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s mind-boggling that this happened only fifty years ago, and even more mind-boggling that the United States, as shown by the 2018 midterm elections, are still having issues with racial voter suppression. Directed with some energy and awareness of the complexity of the issue portrayed on-screen, Selma feels like a political thriller more than a history lesson, and it doesn’t shy away from complex portraits of Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King. Capable actors like David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson and Carmen Ejogo (as well as many other actors in smaller roles, some of whom have become familiar names since the film’s release) are there to help, and some sequences—most notably the violence that interrupts the first march, breathlessly narrated by a journalist—are intense. But it’s also a film about moves and countermoves in conscious activism, and it is far from being as cheaply manipulative as it could have been. Movies like Selma often become activist acts of their own, by reminding us vividly of the nature of progress and what is needed to achieve it. At this moment, we need all the inspiration we can get.

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