Written for RAF News Jan 2015
In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and after the supposed break up of segregation in the States, Selma picks up in the south where things don’t seem to have changed much at all – where four girls have been murdered by white supremacists and where black citizens are still prevented from registering to vote.
When Dr. King (David Oyelowo) hears this news, he decides to use his platform to bring attention to this continued injustice by arranging a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama.
Although Dr. King is introduced accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he is not shown to be an outright hero but a passionate and charismatic preacher who knows how to use a stage and move a crowd. No film had until now focussed on Dr. King and so it comes as a pleasant surprise that director Ava DuVernay avoids the pitfall of deifying this cultural icon and instead shows him as a man – a complex figure complete with all his faults and foibles.
Oyelewo’s King presents the contrast of the man on and off stage: speaking with a measured poetic rhythm that erupts into familiar passionate cries when in front of a crowd, but thoughtful – at times doubtful and doubting even – behind closed doors.
In showing this side to Dr. King, Selma is able to shift focus to the issues at the core of the film and observe the people that marched together on that momentous day, exploring their individual stories and struggles. In a sense Selma looks at the human side of a legend, showing Dr. King to be an ordinary person, and the extraordinary side of regular people as they came together to stand up against oppression.