Why You Should See Selma

In celebration of MLK Day today, we wanted to share two perspectives from Lee & Low staff members on why you should see Selma, the new movie based on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Much has been said about the lack of Academy Award nominations for the movie, but nevertheless moviegoers are uniformly in agreement that Selma is one of the best movies of the year. It offers a meaningful historical context for current events and a springboard for deep discussion, making it a valuable learning experience as well as a straight-up great movie.

Here’s why we think seeing Selma is one of the best ways you could spend MLK Day:

Jason Low, Publisher: The director of Selma, Ava DuVernay brings the audience a lean, gritty fight for voter rights during the civil rights movement. The depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr. is especially poignant. The name Martin Luther King, Jr. is a household name and a holiday. His name is the stuff of legend. But what many fail to realize is that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man with faults and insecurities just like everyone else. The film does not shy away from King’s marital problems caused by his infidelities or self-doubt and indecision resulting from the battle fatigue and weight of leadership when so much is on the line. DuVernay’s King is so human that we fear for his life even during the quieter scenes because humans are vulnerable and these were dangerous times.

still from Selma
still from Selma

Conversations between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. are riveting. The political needle was just as difficult to move in 1965 as it is today. The Voter Rights Bill was as messy an issue as any US president would have to face. The bill was steeped in violence and racism and Johnson’s instinct to postpone action was derailed when John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams tried to lead a march of six hundred protestors over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The nonviolent protestors were savagely beaten by state police and news cameras captured a brutal, bloody war for all Americans to see.

I brought my family to see this film. Bearing witness to the bravery it takes to protest nonviolently for equal rights was (to me) the chance to see history at its most heroic. Although fifty years has passed since Selma took place, the film feels eerily current. Protests over police killings of unarmed black males are happening all over the country and continue to be front-page news. Watching a film like Selma is difficult, but all the more reason to see it. Great movies will move you, make you feel something and Selma does all of these things very deeply.

Rebecca Garcia, Marketing and Publicity Assistant: During Common’s acceptance speech for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, he said, “Selma is now.” Even though the Selma to Montgomery Marches were fifty years ago, this film reminded me that the Civil Rights Movement was a hard battle and took a long time to take effect.

David Oyelowo does an excellent job as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King in this movie struggles with self-doubt, isn’t the perfect husband, and even makes decisions that have other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement question his leadership skills. But this is the Dr. King we all need to see. He’s human and flawed, but is still inspiring and courageous.

While watching the movie, I was reminded of the many protests happening around the country in the wake of the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury decisions. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Change is an arduous and bitterly long process. Selma serves as a reminder of what has been accomplished and what we still need to accomplish. Selma doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence faced by protesters.

Ava DuVernay presents us with a flawed, realistic and ultimately human Dr. King. While David Oyelowo does amazing justice to Dr. King, I felt that the talented actresses in the movie (Carmen Ejobo, Oprah Winfrey, and Lorraine Toussaint to name a few) weren’t utilized to their full potential. Even so, Selma is a relevant and timely film that everyone should see. Take tissues with you.

John Lewis in the Lead cover
buy “John Lewis in the Lead”

Additional Resources:

John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement

Free tickets to see Selma for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students

Essay about challenges to the historical accuracy of Selma

Why ‘Selma’ is More Than Fair to L.B.J.

Did you see Selma? What did you think?

11 thoughts on “Why You Should See Selma”

  1. The NY Times columnist, Maureen Dowd had problems with the LBJ depiction and wrote an op-ed piece about it here: http://nyti.ms/1sSGEOX

    I disagreed with Dowd’s take on Selma and was about to comment, but noticed that the comments section was closed. I then stumbled on a comment by Sophy that said:

    Dowd says “It was clear that a generation of young moviegoers would now see L.B.J.’s role in civil rights through DuVernay’s lens. And that’s a shame.” No, it isn’t a shame. Those same black teens may have seen Lincoln through Spielbergs’ lens–a lens which didn’t even include Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. A film with no acknowledgement of black efforts to end slavery. In her analysis of some of these films, has Dowd ever suggested that it was a “shame” to see the film through those directors’ lenses? I think not.

    Read Sophy’s full thoughts in the comments section under NYT Picks. Sophy really hits the nail on the head when it comes to the preposterous double standard leveraged at a female director of color.

    David Carr of the NYT also chimed with his two bits of why Ava DuVernay’s snub for an Oscar best director nomination was a missed opportunity: http://nyti.ms/15iaIcy

  2. I haven’t yet seen Selma (I really need to go!) but I did see All the Way, the Broadway play about LBJ and the passing of the Civil Rights Act which came out last spring. In that play, LBJ is depicted as a truly complicated person whose personal loyalties are often hard to read, hidden under the weight of so many political forces. Whether he personally wanted to see the voting rights issue pass seems, at times, beside the point; for him what often mattered most was whether there were enough votes to get something through and, if not, what getting those votes would cost him. He and MLK often were at odds with each other, though some of their goals overlapped–I’m also not a historian, but to me it seemed that they were more like “frenemies” than true partners for much of the time. I don’t want to downplay what LBJ contributed to Civil Rights, but it’s refreshing to see a movie like Selma that attributes the bulk of the blood, sweat, and tears of the Civil Rights movement to the activists themselves instead of to a white politician who came in only after the tide seemed to be turning in their favor.

  3. Funny I don’t recall the play’s author, Robert Schenkkan or the director Bill Rauch ever being called out by the media for an unfair treatment of LBJ.

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