Ava DuVernay’s depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is as incredible as it is timely to the current racial climate.
I’ll be honest in that Selma was a little off my radar until the last few weeks. I was aware of what it was, but somehow missed the hype train until it popped on the upcoming films for Rotten Tomatoes, and was rocking a 100% Tomatometer, with close to 50 reviews. A few days later that review count had risen but the percentage stayed the same. I finally saw a trailer closer to the film’s wide release and my mouth dropped. It looked incredible.
And now that it’s been released, I know this to be true. It is an incredible film.
Selma tells the story of the famous Civil Rights march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, to protest voting rights for African-Americans. While it was legal at the time to register and vote, the stipulations in place to register meant that it was literally impossible for them to actually register. This led to incredibly tense communities, especially in southern states, even in a post-segregation United States.
Unlike most biopic films, Selma focuses exclusively on this crucial, momentum changing period of the Civil Rights movement, rather than covering many of the other important moments of MLK Jr.’s life. The film starts after his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and ends long before his murder. It makes for the most engaging film about this world changing man that I have ever seen. We typically see MLK Jr. as a martyr for his cause, but Selma shows him as he likely truly was: a real man, with problems at home, fear inside, but the understanding that, for some odd reason, nothing will change unless it is less by him.
David Oyelowo knocks it out of the park in his performance as Dr. King. Similar to what we saw in Daniel Day Lewis’ performance of Abraham Lincoln, Oyelowo disappears into the role and completely embodies MLK Jr., engulfing the screen whether he’s delivering an inspirational speech, or just weighing the consequences his political role has on his family life. It’s an one of the best performances of the year, and will be interesting to see where he lands with the upcoming Academy Awards (as of this publishing, Oyelowo lost the Best Actor award at the Golden Globes to Eddie Redmayne’s performance of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything).
The rest of Selma‘s cast is filled by an all-star lineup up, from Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth, Common, Giovanni, Ribisi, and plenty of former cast members of The Wire. They’re all given ample screen time, and also shown to be as crucial to the movement and Martin Luther King Jr. himself was.
In terms of pure filmmaking, Selma is a gem. Ava DuVernay, and the rest of her team, exudes brilliance in both the direction of the film, as well as the pacing and storytelling. The film is lengthy, but I never once question any use of the film’s time – every moment is utilized brilliantly. The score is also wonderful, with John Legend and Common’s featured track, “Glory” being a standout for best film song of this past year.
Selma is hands down one of 2014’s finest. In a year riddled with boosted racial tensions, this film couldn’t be more timely. This is a wild year of excellent films, but it truly is one of the strongest awards contenders in almost nearly every category.