At The Movies: ‘Selma’ – An Emotional, Moving Piece Of Cinema

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by John Lyons

The Oscars have officially come and gone.

Though most pundits were hedging their bets on either ‘Boyhood’ or ‘Birdman’, I didn’t want to make up my mind until I had seen all of the films nominated.

There was only one film I had left to see, ‘Selma’, and luckily it arrived in cinemas last weekend just in time for the Oscars.

It’s rather curious that the film’s title is as vague as it is, because ‘Selma’ is actually a biopic-of-sorts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., something which I wouldn’t have imagined by the title alone.

The reasoning behind the ‘Selma’ title, however, is owing to the key historical event that the film is structured around – the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, where King led 25,000 people to Montgomery in order to protest the racist voting practices in America at the time.

‘Selma’ may have won an Oscar for best original song, ‘Glory’, but ironically the word ‘glory’ doesn’t aptly describe the film. Certainly not the majority of it anyway.

In fact, where most filmmakers would have undoubtedly jumped at the opportunity to glorify a milestone in American history and paint King as a martyr, director Ava DuVernay has taken a different approach.

She does the responsible thing – She shines a light on the truth.

And if there’s one harsh truth that ‘Selma’ highlights over and over again, it’s the horrific brutality and sheer oppression that African Americans had to face as they paved their path to justice in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.

‘Selma’ isn’t for the faint of heart. Seeing people of all ages being savagely beaten in the streets is, of course, incredibly uncomfortable.

But this isn’t violence for the sake of violence. It’s history. And, thankfully, it’s not sugar-coated for us.

What’s most fascinating about ‘Selma’ is how the core of the film focuses on something that the history books don’t discuss – Martin Luther King’s inner turmoil.

David Oyelowo’s magnificent performance as Dr. King perfectly captures the ever-growing burden that’s resting on King’s shoulders. Oyelowo consistently manages to articulate King’s conscientious nature, often without uttering a single word.

King’s moments of solitude are often accompanied with an air of uncertainty. How many innocent protesters will continue to be beaten to death?

How long will it be until my family are targeted? How much longer do we have to strive for our basic human rights? How do we even know that we’ll end up actually getting what we want?

It’s astonishing to think that a film about Martin Luther King not only avoided being incredibly sentimental and preachy, but it effortlessly, and simultaneously, underlines an ever-constant sense of dread and an ever-lasting sense of hope that loomed in that era.

Captivating performances, a powerful soul soundtrack, and a superb sense of direction are all seamlessly incorporated into ‘Selma’, culminating in this extremely tense, emotional, and ultimately moving piece of cinema.


Follow John Lyons on Twitter: @Fireinthelyons

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