I eagerly awaited my chance to see SELMA because from all that I knew about the project, it was going to be a classic. I am proud to say that it did not disappoint. I look forward to sitting down with my sons at some point in the near future to share this with them so that they have a full understanding of the significance of Bloody Sunday and the march to Montgomery. My Top 5 reasons to love this movie:
This movie depicted the vulnerable moments when the leaders were not doing the work and how they made sense of what they were doing as it related to their families. You get a glimpse into the toll that it took on these men to keep risking their lives and losing peers to violence.
Recognition of the unsung heroes who also sacrificed
I didn't know the names Annie Lee Cooper, Sullivan Jackson, Cager Lee, or Viola Liuzzo before seeing this movie, but they are just as important as Bevel, Abernathy, and Young because they were the people who believed in the message and readily joined the front lines. In some cases they made the ultimate sacrifice.
Layers to the history
- Martin and Malcolm: It is very easy to believe the narrative that Martin and Malcolm were diametrically opposed and therefore enemies. At it's most sinister the popular narrative of their relationship pushes you as a Black person to decide whether you're with Malcolm (By Any Means Necessary) or Martin (Nonviolent Nonviolent). The movie complicates the popular perception and at least gets you to understand that Brother Malcolm had respect for Dr. King and that there were ways they could work in tandem.
- Presence and importance of women
When I think of the way the Civil Rights Movement is taught in schools, the talking points are Rosa Parks, and then the famous male leaders like Medger Evers, King, and X. The contributions of women are largely ignored. SELMA portrays how central to the movement women like Diane Nash and Amelia Boynton were. It even gives Corretta Scott King a stronger voice than she is often credited with in most narratives.
You read about Bloody Sunday and Birmingham when you are a child and you remember the dates and the death toll. You understand that it happened. It is a whole different experience to watch a dramatization of these events and have to sit with the emotion of it. The emotion makes the stamp even more indelible in my mind so that when I think about my right to vote, those images will always spring forth.
Unlike the Aaliyah movie where casting alone discredited its believability, this movie had superb casting. From David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo as Mr and Mrs King to Tim Roth as George Wallace, it all fit and the performances were brilliant. Tom Wilkinson as LBJ should have gotten some award consideration.
Finally, I salute David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay for their commitment to making sure this project made it to the screen. When I was a young student, I had Paul Winfield's portrayal of Dr. King to learn from and understand the Movement. Now the current generation has their upgraded version to use as a teachable moment. I hope all parents, educators, mentors and stakeholders in the lives of children will take advantage of this film as a resource.