History lesson – Selma review

David Oyelowo

David Oyelowo

Movie  l  Selma  l  M

Selma is  based on a specific historic event in the life of Martin Luther King. Driven by his Christian belief that all people are equal before God, Rev Dr King galvanises and collaborates with others to fight endemic and violent racism.

Directed by the much talked about Ava DeVernay, the story centres on a three month period in the Civil Rights Movement culminating in the successful Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march on 21 March 1965.

While it offers viewers a glimpse into modern-day history, the issues it highlights are just as relevant today.

The film has been a long time in the making. When the script eventually ended up in DeVernay’s hands, she undertook a major rewrite, transforming it from an alpha male interplay between Dr King and then President Lyndon B Johnson to one which breathed heart and humanity into the players.

Selma is unashamedly told from the perspective of the black men, women and children who fought for their basic rights – to vote, to be represented on a jury, to attend church without being blown up.

We see Dr King (David Oyelowo) at his most vulnerable; in the kitchen putting out the rubbish; struggling with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) to hold a marriage together when he is travelling and his life is under threat. This Dr King is not an icon, he is a flesh and blood human being, who works collaboratively alongside a leadership group seeking to change the President’s mind on the importance of voting rights.

He is also a man who prays, who surrounds himself with pastors, who is comforted when a friend reassures him with Jesus’ words from Matthew’s Gospel: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them … Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

David Oyelowo, discussing how he approached portraying a man so revered, said he focused on the human being and the fact that they shared the Christian faith.

“I could see in the way he lived his life, which is what I aspire to do, that his spiritual convictions reflected what he did as a preacher, as a political figure, as a husband, as a father. He tried to have sacrificial love dictate what he did. That is what I hold on to,” Oyelowo told interviewer Sergio Mims.

However, Selma is a story of people, not of one man. It is a story of ordinary men and women at the end of their tether.

They are willing to become activists, to face up to policemen with guns and sticks wrapped in barbed wire, because they believe they are entitled to equal treatment.
Selma captures a moment in time, but it is a universal story.

These issues continue to play out in communities across the globe, including our very own as we grapple with significant societal, political, racial, religious and domestic issues.
As we watch Selma, let us look to the log in our own eyes as well as giving thanks for men and women who are prepared to stand up for what they believe in.

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