There are stories that we tell and pass along, not just because they are great, but because they hold some greater significance and value, some of which we might not realize until later in our lives. These stories sometimes have a hero, a virtuous, unparalleled force of good that seems beyond compare, and almost too good to be true. Selma humanizes the story, reminding us that the story is actually just a history of a battle that still exists today.
In 1965, Selma was the battleground for change, reform and equality. Led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo), he plans a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) recently passed into law that all African-Americans are granted the right to vote, but many of the officials in the state of Alabama are using technicalities to block this. With the support of many other clergy, civil rights activists, his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) and his family, he must lead a march through dangerous and potentially fatal areas in order to get not only the attention of the president, but also the attention of the entire world.
Director Ava DuVernay champions this film about social justice, equality and a long battle against law-makers and law enforcement. Even without all the recent, devastating controversies, this film’s message still holds its own as a beacon of hope for everyone, reminding us that change is possible with enough conviction. The time period is beautifully, unapologetically, and perfectly recreated, right down to the denim overalls worn with denim jackets. Since the estate of King didn’t give DuVernay permission to use such iconic speeches as “I Have a Dream,” she was forced to get creative with the language so that it conveyed the message and ideals he was known for. This may have been considered a great disadvantage at first, but for me it was one of the best parts because it made them skip most of the cliched pitfalls that plague other biopics.
The star-studded cast, consisting of Common, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and even Oprah Winfrey, makes the performances great, but Oyelowo’s performance is what makes this film truly exceptional. He has perfectly captured every nuance and inflection that the late Dr. King was known for. Selma excels at portaying such an important historical figure, often compared to a saint, but shown to be a human like the rest of us. It shows us how even a great man is not the sum of his mistakes or imperfections.
We know the story, and we may even think that we know some of the details, but now we can experience the glory of Selma as its message resonates with the echoed struggles our generation is now facing. With inspired performances and an even more inspiring story, this film is more than just a fantastic biopic about a great man; it is also a call to action. Will you answer the call?
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★(10/10 stars)