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Saturday, 31 January 2015

SELMA

Well, the credits start rolling, John Legend and Common can both be heard singing Glory and nobody in the room is moving. Perhaps they're feeling like me, caught up.


My feelings, well it's  taken a moment to gather them and I'm still processing them.
Let me start at the opening scene where we see Dr King (British actor David Oyelowo) and his wife Coretta (played by British actress Carmen Ejogo) in Oslo, Norway, getting dressed to go and receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This is juxtaposed with a scene where 4 black teenage girls are walking down the stairs into church, chatting about hairstyles when they are suddenly blown up and killed as a bomb explodes. The sound is terrifying and so unexpected that I found myself looking around me.



In the next scene we see a smartly dressed middle-aged black woman, Annie Lee Cooper, (played by Oprah Winfrey) waiting to hand in her application for her right to vote.  While Annie sits there, waiting, she just gives off an air of hopeless despair. As I sat watching I could literally feel her dejection before she even approaches the counter. Yet she still somehow manages to come across as determined, despite it all.

Her application is stamped DENIED.

My absorption into the film is now  complete.

For me, Selma was so much more than a movie. It was an experience.  It was an education. A thought provoking insight into how to persevere and to keep going and keep believing when everything really is against you.  Such was the case for Dr Martin Luther King Jr and such was the case for the people of Selma.

The entire movie is essentially about obtaining the right to vote unencumbered for black people. The bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church was one of the catalysts for the Selma march.

The film shows  the tough unbending negotiations, the political posturings and community uprising throughout the struggle. We see the dangers, the fears and the anger of an entire race oppressed; yet who decide non-violence is the  best way to achieve their rights.

As I watched a night march, a non-violent march, and see the brutality of the police officers who chase them down and beat mercilessly both young and old, men and women, I had to ask why?
All they were doing was marching. The reason? Demanding their constitutional right to vote.

We see a President Lyndon B Johnson (played by  English actor Tom Wilkinson OBE) who seems more concerned with his own legacy than anything else and was often seen trying to get Dr King to place the matter of equal voting rights on the back burner. At the end of the film he finally gives in and eventually signs the Bill into Law.

I especially liked that Dr King is shown  not just as a powerful and influential leader with a clear sense of his own destiny but also a human being. A man conflicted at times.  The film makes references to extra marital relationships but doesn't major on this.  I feel this is a good approach if the story you are seeking to tell is that of Selma.  For his accomplishments were in no way lessened by any personal weaknesses . There were times when he seemed unsure or uncertain of the next step or whether his actions would make a difference as the enormity of the task seemed to overwhelm him.

I liked the fact that the film shows him as human, one of us, and didn't try to make him an action hero with great oratory. He was simply a man on a mission with people who believed in him and who supported the cause; even to the point of giving their lives.



I saw David Oyelowo as a man of equal conviction; he says God told him he would play the role of Dr King. He absolutely embodied the spirit of Dr King throughout the film and never once simply appeared to be impersonating him. In those closing scenes you hear him speak, as though divinely inspired, the words  "Soon; we'll get there soon" you really do believe him, just like they  must have believed Martin Luther King Jr at the time.

When I got the chance to speak with David later , I asked him if 'soon' was here or if it was yet to come.  David told me that we are still in the process of 'soon'. 



'Soon' is already here as we have an African American President. And 'Soon' is still to come as we look at Ferguson.

All the actors in this movie played their parts with depth and passion and I got a real sense that to them this was more than a film and that they felt part of something much greater. Oprah Winfrey really impressed as Annie Lee Cooper - her fame did not impede her portrayal and she brings out the humiliation suffered by so many ordinary black people at that time.

The song especially written for the movie, "Glory" by John Legend and Common  (Common played John Bevel in the movie), captures the entire message of the story, carrying an essence and spirit  full of hope and faith for a triumphant future. It has been nominated for Best Song by the Academy Awards as has the film for Best Picture.

The film director Ava DuVernay has set forth a masterful piece of work here  and although she did not receive an Oscar nod which would have made her the first African American female director to do so; she can be truly proud with what she has accomplished in telling the story of SELMA to a new generation.



Masterful for many reasons but, for me, for no less reason that I did not leave the screening angry and upset at the treatment of black people by white people. Instead, I was empowered. Instead, I was reminded of the price that had been paid for freedom for people, like me, of colour. I saw clearly and understood entirely the power of knowing your own purpose and destiny and being ready to do all required to fulfill it, regardless of danger,  toils or snares. I saw many reasons to take pride. I also saw the power of faith.

All in all I believe Selma is an excellent film, everyone who took part can be proud. It's a film for all the family and does so much more than simply entertain.

Thanks to Kush Films and Marlon Palmer for the invitation to view. Truly appreciate all the fine work your company does in the film industry.

SELMA is on general release in the UK from 6 February.

Patricia Benjamin
Real Love Show
www.ruachradio.com