In an interview with The Atlantic, director Ava DuVernay says the following about Martin Luther King Jr: He’s a street name, and a statue, and a holiday, and a speech. But to have changed the world and to have no one know who you truly are is criminal, really.
The shocking truth is that in the more than 46 years since his death, no major motion pictures have ever been made about King. Until Selma.
Selma is powerful, inspiring and deeply moving. Thankfully DuVernay doesn’t go down the traditional biopic route and try and tick off every pivotal moment in King’s life. Instead she gives us one landmark event – the three marches in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, which led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act.
The law eliminated barriers in voter registration and allowed African Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote. It was one of the greatest victories of the civil rights movement in America. Working from a script by Paul Webb, DuVernay creates a layered narrative that depicts King as complex and, more importantly, human.
He is a savvy politician and an inspiring leader but he is also unfaithful to his loving wife Coretta, played wonderfully by Carmen Ejogo.
In a heart-breaking scene, she asks him whether he loves her and whether he also loves those other women. His face crumpling with grief and regret, King replies, he does love her and that he never loved the other women. David Oyelowo gives a towering performance as King.
He has grandeur and dignity but he never seems superhuman. You can feel the burden of history on his shoulders. Sadly, over the last few weeks, Selma has become embroiled in controversy – about its historical accuracy and about its exclusion from key Oscar categories – the film got a best picture nomination but neither DuVernay nor Oyelowo were nominated for direction and acting. I recommend that you ignore the chatter.