Katherine Perrington reviews the biopic of Martin Luther King Jr. giving Selma praise for its portrayal of the historical figure.
This film offers a powerful look into a very important period of American history which has been woefully under-represented by the industry.
Nominated for two Academy awards, the highly coveted Best Picture and Best Original song, quite frankly it is very disappointing that it has not been nominated for more.
This monumental true story charts a chaotic three-month period in 1965, when Martin Luther King Jr led a campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent and fanatically racist opposition. The march from Selma to Montgomery resulted in President Johnson bowing to pressure and signing the voting rights act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement.
However, that victory did not come without a heavy price. Director Ava DuVernay highlights the rampant injustice and brutality that faced African Americans at the time. Many scenes are distressing, with armed troopers throwing tear gas and beating men and women alike, despite pleas for mercy. The camera zooms into the bloody nameless faces of the poor souls on the ground and you are reminded that while this is just a film, it is accurately depicting the beatings and murders of real people.
The uncaring nature of white authority is well depicted by Tom Wilkinson as President Johnson, who would rather ignore the real issues and unsuccessfully attempts to stop King from marching. Tim Roth is eerie as Alabama governor George Wallace who is responsible for Sheriff Jim Clark’s freedom to beat and kill protesters.
David Oyelowo gives a career-defining performance, perfectly balancing King’s calm and dignified manner while giving uplifting speeches with his more turbulent and complex personal life, including J Edgar Hoover’s surveillance of him and his infidelity. He exudes charisma and authority clearly dominating his meetings with the President and other well-known figures. Carmen Ejogo is striking as Coretta Scott-King, battling her feelings towards her husband’s infidelity with her duty as the wife of such an important public figure.
This truly phenomenal film along with 12 Years a Slave (last year’s Best Picture winner) will hopefully pave the way for Hollywood to tackle the ugly past of American history rather than the self-aggrandising with which we are all too familiar.