And so we have the last of the Best Picture films based upon true events. We made it! OK, I know I’ve been picking on these movies quite a bit, but I’ll be honest and say that all the previous few “true story” movies have been pretty good. Well, not ALL, but most. I complain about it, but history does have some fantastic stories to tell and often they are stories we, as a society, need to hear as a means to better ourselves.
Now Showing this week is Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. Beginning with Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) in his prime, having just received the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent activism for racial equality, Selma tells the story of King’s next challenge: the denial of African Americans enrolling to vote in Alabama despite the passing of laws prohibiting segregation in public facilities. When negotiations with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) fail to ensure enforcement of the anti-segregation laws, King travels to Selma, Alabama to lead a series of peaceful protest marches. But when the marches are met with extreme violence, as well as personal threats to his wife and children, Dr King is left to choose between his cause and the safety of his community.
The first thing that came to my mind upon finishing Selma was how much it reminded me of Lincoln. It is a film that not only tells us of a great man’s victory over bigotry and close-mindedness, but reminds us that said bigotry is still happening today. Not only towards African Americans, but other cultures and peoples around the world. Out of all the true story/biopics we’ve seen this Oscars season, Selma seems to be the one that is the most socially and culturally relevant. And it achieves this great impact through excellent performances and clever film-making.
The film provides a great insight into King himself. Oyelowo’s Dr King is passionate, inspiring and larger than life but also very much afraid. We see him rehearsing his many grand speeches and the arguments he has with his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) about the risks to their personal safety as they pursue justice. Much like Lincoln before it, Selma shows us someone who we’ve always seen as a figure and reminds us he was a person. The rest of the cast were also excellent, creating such fleshed out characters in such limited amounts of individual screen time. I didn’t even recognise Oprah Winfrey until the credits rolled!
The decision to limit how graphic the violent scenes were was also a very affective one. For a film rife with beatings, they were all shown through sound and clever cuts rather than blood and gore. I felt every brutal punch and baton-hit; the foley artist really deserves a medal. It truly made the violence seem more real, a trait most important for the film’s message.
When reviewing American Sniper, I mentioned the controversy that this year’s Oscars nominations were not diverse enough, given most of the nominees are men and white. When I originally heard that argument I scoffed, because while I agree that there is a problem in the entertainment industry where female and/or racially diverse characters and filmmakers are not favoured, the idea of saying the Academy should think: “oh, we better nominate a black person because we haven’t got one in there yet,” offends me. Don’t do it for the sake of doing it, do it if they were among the best of the year. But having seen Selma, I would say that the lead actor, David Oyelowo, is among the best and it was an oversight to not include him but nominate Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle. Director Ava DuVernay should be up for director too, it really is a shame she isn’t.
While it may not be generating much Oscar buzz, outside of controversy surrounding its lack of nominations, Selma is very much a movie worth your time. It isn’t my pick for Best Picture, but it is an excellent example of a “true story” film being worth making. With strong performances, powerful storytelling and a great sense of cultural relevance, Selma is worthy of its nomination.
See you next time!
When Tom isn’t writing about cultural diversity in awards shows, he’s rambling about news and silly things with his co-hosts on the Unnatural Selection podcast. He will also be featuring in the Oscars coverage on The Popculturists next Thursday night.