Selma is a 2014 American historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James Bevel, Hosea Williams, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis. The film stars actors David Oyelowo as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and rapper and actor Common as Bevel.
Selma premiered at the American Film Institute Festival on November 11, 2014, began a limited US release on December 25, and expanded into wide theatrical release on January 9, 2015, two months before the 50th anniversary of the march. The film got a re-release on March 20, 2015 in the honor of the 50th anniversary of the historical march.
Selma had four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Actor, and won for Best Original Song. It was also nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards.
The story goes like this, in 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) accepted his Nobel Peace Prize. Four African-American girls walking down stairs in the Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist Church were killed by a bomb set by the Ku Klux Klan. Annie Lee Cooper attempted to register to vote in Selma, Alabama but was prevented by the white registrar. King met with President Lyndon B. Johnson and asked for federal legislation to allow black citizens to register to vote unencumbered. Johnson said he had more important projects at the time, like his War on Poverty initiative.
King traveled to Selma with Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, James Orange, and Diane Nash. James Bevel greeted them, and other SCLC activists showed up to help. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover told Johnson that King was a problem, and suggested they disrupt his marriage. Coretta Scott King has concerns about her husband’s upcoming work in Selma. King calls singer Mahalia Jackson to inspire him with a song. King, other SCLC leaders, and black Selma residents march to the registration office to register. After a confrontation in front of the courthouse a shoving match occurs as the police go into the crowd. Cooper fights back, knocking Sheriff Jim Clark to the ground, leading to the arrest of Cooper, King, and others.
As the Selma to Montgomery march is about to begin, King talks to Young about cancelling it, but Young convinces King to persevere. The marchers, including John Lewis of SNCC, Hosea Williams of SCLC, and Selma activist Amelia Boynton, cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and approach a line of state troopers who put on gas masks. The troopers order the marchers to turn back, and when they hold their ground the troopers attack with clubs, horses, tear gas, and other weapons. Lewis and Boynton are among those badly injured. The attack was shown on national television as the wounded are treated at Brown Chapel, the movement’s headquarter church.
Movement attorney Fred Gray asks federal Judge Frank Minis Johnson to let the march go forward. President Johnson demands that King and Wallace stop their actions, and sends John Doar to convince King to postpone the next march. White Americans, including Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb, arrived to join the second march. Marchers cross the bridge again and see the state troopers lined up, but the troopers turn aside to let them pass. King, after praying, turns around and leads the group away, and again comes under sharp criticism from SNCC activists. That evening, Reeb was beaten to death by white racists on a street in Selma.
Judge Johnson allows the march. President Johnson speaks before a Joint Session of Congress to ask for quick passage of a bill to eliminate restrictions on voting, praising the courage of the activists; he states “We shall overcome.” The march on the highway to Montgomery takes place, and when the marchers reach Montgomery King delivers a speech on the steps of the State Capitol. As King speaks of coming victory, footage of him and his supporters were displayed on screen, and that was the end of the movie. That should save you from having to watch it.
DuVernay directed Selma, with a $20 million budget produced by Plan B Entertainment. The movie was released on December 25, 2014. There was significant controversy about Selma and its depiction of Lyndon Johnson‘s actions as portrayed in the film. Former Johnson domestic policy aide Joseph A. Califano, Jr. criticized DuVernay for ignoring and falsifying history, and particularly for suggesting that Johnson reluctantly supported King’s efforts and that he set the FBI to investigate King. For the film she did uncredited re-writes of most of the original screenwriter Paul Webb’s script with an increased emphasis on King and the people of Selma as central figures. In response to the criticisms of historians and media sources that accused her of irresponsibly rewriting history to portray her own agenda, DuVernay pointed out that the film is “not a documentary. I’m not a historian. I’m a storyteller”. However, most people watching the film without question will accept the film as historical record.
The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Song, but not Best Director, by the Academy Awards. While the lack of diversity of the Oscar nominations for 2014 was the subject of much press, especially on Twitter, the film of the only person of color that was nominated for the 87th Academy Awards, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, ended up taking top honors in three categories at the February 2015 87th Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. The award for Best Original Song went to “Glory” from Selma. DuVernay stated that she had not expected to be nominated so the omission didn’t really bother her; rather she was hurt by actor David Oyelowo not being nominated. As to the question of racial diversity of awards, she stated that the obstacles to people of color being represented in the Academy Awards were systemic. She failed to mention that in order to be considered for such a nomination that she should have shown herself to be a director of the highest order. For instance, I disagree tremendously with the politics of the movie Argo and its director Ben Afleck. But, Ben did a great job with that picture and deserved his rewards as a fabulous director. It had nothing to do with him being white, or a male—he just made a great movie—even though I disagreed with most of the premise—favoring the communists of Iran with a haze of respect instead of a more conservative position.
Ava Marie DuVernay (born August 24, 1972) is an American director, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the Best Director Prize for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, becoming the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in Selma, DuVernay is the first black woman director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With Selma, she is also the first black woman director to have their film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Ava DuVernay obviously needed more time behind the camera directing because there were a lot of sloppy mistakes, most notably involving Malcolm X. It was obvious that the producers, specifically Oprah and Brad Pitt wanted an African-American woman to direct the film instead of the best possible candidate, so their hiring desires directed the foundation of the film which came across as a music video painted with a PBS documentary. I don’t think it was DuVernay’s fault the movie wasn’t good; it was that the lack of understanding and emphasis by the producers that made the film bad from the start. They made a movie about a popular black man and the civil rights movement then expected to show up at the Academy Awards to pick up their nomination for advancing a progressive cause. The movie suffered because of it. The story of Selma is actually a good one, but it deserved a much better effort instead of the politically charged tripe that was provided.
The film cost $20 million to make and brought in just over $68 million so financially it wasn’t a failure, but culturally it did little to advance the story of Martin Luther King. Instead, it took him down several pegs in the eyes of history I suppose to show that he was a more “human” man. Obviously the real hero of Selma to my eyes appeared to be King’s wife—the battered wife who stood by her man even after his death—which contradicted the UN flying flag that the protestors were carrying into Montgomery at the end of the film. What did the United Nations have to do with American civil rights? If the intention of the filmmakers was to tell a powerful story about Martin Luther King and how Malcolm X made peace with him before his own assassination, the film failed. Instead they gave us an insider’s gaze into the political activism that still goes on behind the scenes of a civil rights movement that isn’t so much rooted in fairness for all people, but a global government led by the United Nations—which had Brad Pitt’s fingerprints all over it, even the cowboy riding a horse running down innocent blacks with a bullwhip in slow motion. The progressive imagery was obvious. I certainly didn’t miss it, which made me wonder who they thought they were making the movie for. I don’t think the producers knew.
Given the history and success of people like Oprah and Brad Pitt, you’d think they’d know better. They are rich people, but all their wealth hasn’t done much to make them better people. You could give them all the money in the world and they would just waste it. They couldn’t even make a good movie when given a free hand at producing anything they wanted with money not even being an option. With all their resources, Selma is all they could come up with. It is for that reason that with all the intelligence Mark Zuckerberg showed in developing Facebook, it’s clear he was a one shot wonder who stumbled across something that people wanted to pay him a lot of money for. But he doesn’t understand the value of what he obtained and neither will the recipients of his 45 billion dollars. It’s a nice gesture but will share with the movie Selma—made by his good friends—a lackluster outcome that falls well short of its good intentions. The path to hell of course is paved with good intentions. But you’d think that smart people would have learned that by now and not funded the concrete trucks that helped pave the way. Without personal value, no amount of money can’t fix anything; money can only delay the inevitable just a while longer. Money doesn’t give value—it only represents it. If you throw $20 million dollars at a slam dunk movie set for the academy awards, but the people involved are not up to the task and aren’t making the movie with real value at the heart of it—but just eyeing a sure-fire Academy Award for exploiting blacks and the civil rights history—then the attempt will likely be a failure. And if $45 billion dollars are poured into a global society without putting value into the people receiving it, then all that money will just be wasted, because the value of money cannot stick to anything. The effort may be noble, but the result will be less than fulfilling, because the essence of value was ignored, and confused with fiscal measurements.
Rich “Cliffhanger” Hoffman