SELMA Review – Emotionally Riveting, Pivotal, Electrifying

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"SELMA," from Pathe, Harpo Productions, Plan B Entertainment and Paramount Pictures, presents an emotionally riveting confrontation driven account of the 1965 passage of the Voter's Right Act and the explosion of violence which gripped hearts and stunned a nation.


Directed by Ava DeVernay, "SELMA" stars David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King. "SELMA" also stars Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr., Martin Sheen, Dylan Baker, Keith Stanfield, Wendell Pierce, Andre Holland, Nigel Thatch and Jeremy Strong.

"SELMA" opens with the presentation of Nobel Peace Prize to Martin Luther King, Jr for his non-violent commitment to the Civil Rights Movement which had been met throughout with heinous violence in retaliation against those and the supporters who wanted full citizenship.

Historically, there are several key points within the Civil Rights movement that defined it to the nation, and the world, one of course being the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church on Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama, which four girls were killed. Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, and the two subsequent Selma to Montgomery Marches became pivotal turning points.

To Ms. DeVernay's credit she kept a racial balance in the film as the heat of the season we live has created an acceptable segregation.

She included the account of James Reeb. A white reverend from Boston in Birmingham answering Martin Luther King's call to the nation. Reeb was murdered, viciously beaten by supporters of segregation, for helping King and also Viola Liuzo murdered five hours after the dream to register voters in Selma was realized by Klansmen for her assistance in the Civil Rights movement.

Violence had always undergirded the strategy of those determined to maintain the status quo of race separation.

"SELMA" depicts the confrontation between worlds as Martin Luther King and his non-violent peaceful change movement, which was based on the teachings of Ghandi who also utilized a non-violent strategy to force change.

Martin Luther King, Jr., played brilliantly by David Oyelowo, refused to allow those whom hated, and I'm not sure if the motivation for such violent hate was change, end the push for equality.

I also wonder if the years of abuse perpetrated against the African people, from the days of slavery, when men and women were stolen and families ripped apart, and a cycle of absenteeism males took root, and if the motivator of such venimous hate was fear of judicial repercussion if the dream of equality was realized.

Or if as is often simply stated, a proud tradition, which in ones right mind cannot withstand an argument. A proud tradition of violence, of hatred based on skin color, hatred based on appearance?

This obviously is not the place for a dissertation although there is some room for interpretation into the historical events that Ava DeVernay's presents.

As in the film, the movement of change was a powder keg and one misunderstood word or action the flint that ignites.

During the press day Ms. DeVernay's stated "SELMA" is not a documentary and that is reiterated during the end credits.

"SELMA" is a fictionalized account staying as close as possible to the external events as seen around the world and as close as one would expect and believe the interaction between a married couple, an absent husband, a scared wife with young children, threats of retaliation, strained friendships and the horror of everyday living with graphic and accepted violence.

The film, of course, has the crucial moment's central to the Civil Rights Movement. The first, March 7, Bloody Sunday, and those who participated deserve to be forever memorialized, when during the initial attempt the 600 marchers faced a slaughter by Alabama State Troopers, brutalized, beaten with barbed wire wrapped bats, police batons, riders charging with whips, the violence was indescribable and vividly brought to the screen it was graphic, realistic, lifelike and explicitly portrayed.

The film depicts New York Times Reporter, played by John Merical, a white man, phoning in the accounts his account also emotionally commanding.

The second march, two days later, as and MLK utilized media better than most for his generation, he was well aware to spread a non-violent peaceful message, in a country where segregation was still considered the norm the media must assist.

The resilience and tenacity of Dr. King and those who witness loved ones slaughtered, beaten, and within three weeks on March 21, the third and final March successfully marches across Edmund Pettus Bridge with approximately thousands joining from all walks of life, across races, aligned with by a single belief in humanity and the rights of all Americans to live free and fully.

Performance across the board are gripping, powerful, authentic and as Tim Roth who portrays Alabama Governor George Wallace stated when asked how he dealt with the material to which he replied "you have to get in touch with your inner racist and everyone has one. And To Ava's credit she encouraged it."

"Selma" is probably the most gifted ensemble performance to grace the screen in sometime and the acting is seamless, without flaw. All are deserving of mention, Oprah Winfrey again stuns as Annie Lee Cooper, Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson is exceptional, Common, as James Bevel, continues to build a reputation of one with real depth and range.

Keith Stanfield as Jimmie Lee Jackson is amazing; his scenes with Henry G. Sanders who portrays Cager Lee, his grandfather and Viola Jackson his mother are shocking with authenticity.

"SELMA" is transporting.  DeVernay is exceptional in her direction. She doesn't water down events, it was difficult not to shout or sob at the ignorance as it played.

To say gripping is mild, electrifying closer and the even then words seems weak in description.  

 "SLEMA" opens in select cities on Christmas Day.

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