Selma, an Oprah produced film about the march from Selma, Alabama by Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists in the 1960s, opens with a powerful scene of an elderly black woman trying to register to vote in the South. She is at the county courthouse with her voting application, but the completed application is not enough.
First, the white clerk asks her to recite the Preamble to the Constitution — which she does. Then the clerks asks her how many county judges Alabama has.
Sixty-seven, she correctly answers.
Name them, he said.
She walks away, once again, denied the right to vote.
Right to Vote
The core issue the movie tackles is Martin Luther King’s attempt to get voting rights for the black community. Although they technically have the right to vote, they are being systematically denied this right through a series of laws and acts of intimation designed to keep them out of the polling booth. When King visits president Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House, King explains to the president that the black community needs the president’s help to secure the voting right.
After being rebuffed by LBJ, King embarks on a plan to force the president’s hand. As the movie points out, Selma was not an incidental choice for the march. King and other civil leaders strategically chose the city for its intense hatred of blacks as well as for the local political structure that would be conducive to a march. What unfolds over the course of the movie are the methods and strategies — from marches to court proceedings — used to secure voting rights for blacks.
Since the movie is based on a historical event, the film pulls in all the correct political and civil players that were instrumental in the conflict — including Governor George Wallace and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. It also uses King’s extramarital affair to move the story forward. But, at times, the movie is painful to watch — like seeing four young black girls die when their church is bombed or when a 82-year-old black man is unmercifully beaten by Billy club-toting white police officers. But so many of the actors deliver powerful performances that, in the end, you get a sense of the desperation, pain, hatred and even hope the citizens and civil leaders have. English actor David Oyelowo’s portrayal of MLK is inspirational especially when reciting some of King’s most well-known speeches.
Rated: 5 out of 5
Definitely a 5-out-of-5 stars film. Besides delivering an accurate (albeit condensed) account of the historical event, it also incorporates the file the FBI kept on MLK. The file — and the notes typed out on the screen — are a stark reminder of how much the government monitored King and the civil rights movement. Overall, the film is a testament to a man who refused to give in — even when it meant death for so many — because he knew his involvement in the movement was an act of morality.
As it happened, I watched Selma the night before a 21-year-old white man walked into a black church and executed nine church members. His actions are a reminder of how much more the white culture needs to do to curb the hatred and erase our naïve belief that as a race we are superior to others. And, when I read posts on social media about recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore where white people say — I would protest and riot, but oh yeah, I can’t I have a job, I know Solomon is right when he says there is nothing new under the sun. During The Birmingham Campaign in 1963, white clergy urged black demonstrators to quit participating in the marches, counter sit-in and boycotts.