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REVIEW: “Selma” a fresh perspective on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

SelmaSurprisingly, “Selma” is the first film released in theaters to be about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The movie, which stars David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a powerful picture about King trying to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enacted.

In the role of King, Oyelowo is excellent, bringing vulnerability as well as charisma to the part. It’s not just a saintly portrayal; we see that he has flaws.  Carmen Ejogo is quite good playing King’s loyal wife, Coretta Scott King. Oprah Winfrey has a small role as a woman who is trying to register to vote in the South and who also participates in marches. Tim Roth plays Senator George Wallace, Tom Wilkinson plays Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), and Dylan Baker plays J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. Even though Roth, Wilkinson, Oyelowo, and Ejogo are all British, they are able to convincingly pull off a believable Southern accent.

Throughout this period, the FBI is constantly keeping logs on the King family. When Dr. King visits with Johnson, his primary goal is to get the president to enact the Voting Rights Act immediately because King remarks African-Africans are facing an uphill battle to do something (vote), which they are by law entitled to do. Johnson, however, feels there are more important issues, such as poverty, so he tries to stall Dr. King on the matter.

Dr. King keeps pushing the issue, though, by encouraging and participating in protests, one of which gets him arrested, while another results in the death of an activist. This gets the attention of President Johnson, who starts to feel pressure to act.

Meanwhile on the home front, Dr. King and his wife see themselves having some marital problems. Mrs. King seems to think that her husband is so committed to his cause that in the process he is neglecting his family — his arrest being a prime example. Dr. King on the other hand cannot believe that Mrs. King met with Malcolm X while Dr. King was in jail. The reason is that Malcolm X’s ideologies of pro-violence contrast with Dr. King’s more pacifist tendencies.

Senator Wallace, being the racist that he was, makes it his mission to derail King’s marches at every turn. He tries to get President Johnson to side with him, but Johnson is conflicted on the matter.

The movie does a really good job trying to make the setting authentic. We get a feel for how it was in the South in the 1960’s, especially for African-Americans — cars, the way people dressed, blatant discrimination.

With a push for African-American justice, the film certainly feels timely and relevant given the nationwide protests against police brutality towards people of color.

Only nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Original Song, the movie was certainly deserving of more. Very well-acted and written all-around, this is a chapter in history worth experiencing.

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