On March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led 25,000 people to the steps of the Alabama state capitol of Montgomery. They marched for four days all the way from Selma, Alabama — a 54-mile hike — to protest racial voting inequality. It was their third attempt to do so after being thwarted violently by state troopers and county possemen with billy clubs and tear gas. Through suffering and oppression, the march was ultimately successful. On August 6 of that year, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in the voting process.
“Selma” (2014), Ava DuVernay’s landmark historical drama, tells the story of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches with a special focus on MLK’s role, abandoning the traditional biopic approach of a birth-to-death story. It’s a short snapshot of one of the most important moments in the life of one of the most important figures in history. Its themes are powerfully relevant to today’s troubled world, and its disturbing scenes of violence are startlingly similar to those seen in the streets today. Martin Luther King is masterfully and respectfully embodied in David Oyewolo’s grounded and human performance, and DuVernay’s direction is focused and empathetic. It stretches its PG-13 rating to the fullest with frequent depictions of violent injustice and prejudice, ultimately leading to a film more disturbing than traditional R-rated fare. Nevertheless, it’s a necessary and prescient film that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
Many have pointed out some of the more glaring historical inaccuracies, most notably the depiction of MLK’s relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson. Others have pointed out the rather slow pace of the film as an issue. While neither of these problems were distracting enough to ruin the film in any way, they were just barely enough of an issue to keep the film from being perfect.
In light of the recent protests and growing support for Black Lives Matter, Selma is especially relevant. Whether you want to learn more about Black American history or simply want to celebrate it, Selma is the perfect film to watch. But be warned — it’s not an easy ride.