4 Stars — Powerful
A pivotal moment in protecting the voting rights of black Americans in 1965, we walk with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) as he motivates the clergy and others of all races to join in the march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the violence and denials of the voting rights of black Americans by the southern state of Alabama.
In this screenplay written by Paul Webb in his writing début, we are invited to be present in both public and intimate moments in King’s life during this historical event.
Part of the power of the tale is the confrontation between church and state, pastor and politician. Choosing to tell the story as a struggle between the Rev. King and President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), we soon realize that voting rights was not the top priority of a sometimes sympathetic president. However, the racist hatred of Alabama Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and the cruel violence of Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) was confronted with King’s dignity and nonviolence. These interwoven struggles demonstrate the multilayered dynamics of fighting for justice as well as political rights.
Also present in this telling of the event are notable figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Along with Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo), who is a strong figure of personal and professional support even when J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) used the FBI to try to destroy her and her marriage, we see future Ambassador Andrew Young (André Holland) and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), who partnered with King in leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The egalitarian dignity upon which our democracy is based comes from the belief expressed in our Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This core belief that every human is of equal value and should be so treated personally and politically is basic to Christian teaching. This event demonstrates this as the clergy came together in Selma and were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring justice to those for whom it was denied. That is a powerful message as we continue the struggle to care for those who are marginalized today.
» Without the strength of the moral imperative of equality it seems that human beings dominate and enslave, either overtly or covertly. In what ways have you found the moral imperative of dignity and justice for all people impacts how you live your life?
» There have been some complaints that the film unfairly portrays President Johnson and the support of Jewish leaders. How do you view such criticism in films based on a true event?
» It is obvious by recent events that there is still a long way to go until the racial tensions in the United States can be healed. What are you doing to help bring justice, peace and love between races?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.