On the Silver Screen – Selma

Feb 6, 2015 | Posted by in Movies

Ava DuVernay’s Selma tells the story of Martin Luther King’s (David Oyelowo) campaign to secure equal voting rights for black people by organising a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

To say that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an influential historical figure would be a vast understatement so making a film that would do justice to such a great man is a very difficult undertaking. I think it was a good decision to focus on the relatively short time chronicled in this movie. It was a really pivotal time in history and drilling down into the event allows the narrative to explore the event in much greater detail.

David Oyelowo is fantastic as Martin Luther King. He doesn’t really resemble the man physically but that doesn’t seem to matter as he seems to embody his spirit perfectly, at least from what I know of him. Martin Luther King wasn’t written to perfectly match his real life persona which works to the film’s credit as it allows Oyelowo to create his own spin on him and actually give a performance that’s more of an interpretation rather than a historical recreation.

Martin Luther King is injected with so much humanity through a combination of the performance and the way he was written. The film doesn’t really try to paint him as a saintly figure all of the time and shows that he has flaws, he has indecisive moments and he really doesn’t have all the answers all of the time. He’s a very principled man and really believes in what he’s doing while not wanting people to get hurt but there seems to be moments where he doubts if they can succeed.

SelmaOyelowo gives such a layered performance that he is believable no matter what the scene involves. His ability to give rousing speeches is both inspiring and captivating and his quieter more intense moments are equally as effective. No matter what he has to say I couldn’t help but hang on every word.

Part of the beauty of this film is that it doesn’t purely rest on Martin Luther King to tell the story. It is very much an ensemble piece and an effective one at that. Carmen Ejogo plays King’s wife Coretta who supports him throughout and often gives him the strength he needs to continue. Ejogo does a great job here and has really natural chemistry with Oyelowo. They feel like a true husband and wife who have been through many ups and downs.

I really liked Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson. He’s sort of an antagonist to King but not in the traditional sense. King has his agenda and Johnson has his but the two men respect each other. The film takes the approach of them being opponents on a political level with lots of emphasis on the fact that Johnson would rather not have to deal with this and really wants to turn his attention to other matters.

Tim Roth’s portrayal of George Wallace as slightly less than villainous was a nice choice. It would have been so easy to make him cartoonishly evil but there’s more subtlety to him than that. Roth makes an attempt to humanise a man widely known as a racist and makes him feel more real in the process.

It’s the way that the film grounds the story that makes it work so well and the ensemble nature reminds us that the story is so much bigger than one man. The events are played straight and the people involved are written as people rather than their historical personalities. It makes it much easier to root for the people involved when they aren’t written like fictional characters.

The depiction of the events was nicely done as well. Near the start of the film there’s a really shocking explosion claiming the lives of children that was really unexpected and the sequences depicting the brutality during the marches were very effective. No attempts are made to sugarcoat what went on at the time and that’s definitely the right way to approach it. Arguably the message of peaceful protest and ensuring everyone is treated equally is a very important one right now.

At times I felt that the narrative felt a little unfocussed and slowed down for stretches of time. It didn’t happen too often and didn’t overly distract from things but it was frequent enough to be noticeable.

  • 8.5/10
    Selma - 8.5/10


A powerful and honest portrayal of the events that lead to the right to vote being extended to black people after efforts led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965.

The historical significance of the events are the core of this film but the narrative drills down into the people that made this happen and crafts a well put together ensemble piece pointing out the importance of the people that made this all happen.

David Oyelowo is fantastic as Martin Luther King, giving the character a great amount of humanity and given enough latitude to craft his own version of the man. It’s more of an interpretation than a historical recreation and it really makes his performance memorable. He is outstanding at both the loud and bombastic speeches as well as the quieter reflective moments. It all combines to make him feel like a fully fleshed out human character complete with flaws and self doubt.

A talented supporting cast back him up and help remind the audience that this event is far bigger than one man. Tom Wilkinson plays an intricately characterised Lyndon B. Johnson who comes across as someone who has his own agenda rather than an all out antagonist. Similarly Tim Roth’s George Wallace has an air of humanity about him rather than being completely vilified as would have been easy to do.

No sugarcoating of the events were attempted here from the bombing that killed children to the police brutality of those trying to stage a peaceful protest. It’s all honestly presented and pays respect to those involved while showcasing the reality of the situation.

In some cases the narrative felt a little unfocussed and could spend too much time exploring something that had already been extensively dealt with. These instances were rare but noticeable and didn’t detract from things too much.

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