Selma – Movie Review
Selma – PG-13
Release Date: Fri 09 Jan 2015
Selma focuses on an important but relatively small slice of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and the civil rights movement. After the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, voting was legal for black Americans, but individual counties were allowed to throw draconian rules in front of the process to completely disenfranchise it from being a reality. The movie does a good job of explaining this aspect of civil rights, showing a character trying for the umpteenth time to get registered to vote and being asked by the county clerk to recite the preamble to the Constitution. She does. He asks her how many judges are there. She answers correctly – 67. He then asks her to name them. She cannot and is denied.
Another scene shows a group talking about where – within the voter registration process – they should focus their efforts. Some want to focus on the poll tax or the fact that newly registered black voters names and addresses are printed in the paper. The decide on vouchers, a truly devious system that requires an established registered voter to vouch for new voters. If there isn’t already a black voter in your county, your chances of getting a voucher are nonexistent.
Nuance is an important part of Selma. We see that the movement is not completely behind King, though they do eventually side with him. They question his actions. He also questions his own. He deals with the FBI sending tapes of him sleeping with other women to his wife. It helps humanize King rather than show him as a perfect, Christlike figure. This is a man who never saw his 40th birthday.
Selmas focus is also it’s weakness, stretching a story that would make a good hour-long documentary in a series on civil rights and/or King to two hours. There’s a lot of music montages or slow, lazy camera shots panning across different scenes. A filter seems to wash out the color causing some scenes (particularly at night) to be hard to tell the details and features of the people talking.
There are good performances here, but ultimately the movie becomes torn between reaching for an Oscar with an epic length versus telling its story efficiently. Many people will be disappointed that it doesn’t show more of King’s life, but I enjoyed the slice of the story and came away with a greater understanding of how the march to Montgomery (from Selma) was an important incremental step toward the black vote being guaranteed in the south.
Aaron and I saw it in the theater and had a discussion in the car: