It’s been almost four months to the day the death of 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri galvanized the nation in a spirit of outrage unseen since 1965. In the months that followed that and the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police in New York, citizens have taken the streets, raising the voices and demanding change to the current system that allows law enforcement to legally kill unarmed civillians and not be punished for it. Corporate Media’s been looking at other things for about a month now (Missing Plane, Murdered NYPD Cops and now the Terror Attacks in France) but the important thing is those leading the protests of today stay focused and keep moving forward weather the cameras are rolling or not.
I call this the New Civil Rights Era.
Before Selma, the last movie that covered the turning point in the Old Civil Rights Era was the 1999 feature Selma, Lord, Selma. That movie was from the perspective of a group of young African American girls (now adults) who were there for the first march from Selma to Birmingham–the event forever known to history as Bloody Sunday. Although the historical account was accurate, that movie was clearly made for a younger audience and a different time.
Selma, on the other hand…it came in at just the right time.
David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ll pause for a moment to remind folks to remember to include the “Jr.” part as both his namesake and his son Martin (Luther King) both have “Dr.” in their titles. Anyway, a few years before the movie was filmed, classified documents, tapes and FBI reports were recently declassified. The newly declassified data revealed how extensive J. Edgard Hoover (played in the movie by Dylan Baker) was in spying on Martin Luther King.
Selma doesn’t hold back. At the same time, it doesn’t come with a hidden political agenda. This was the main complaint those who were there had for Selma, Lord, Selma. They felt it didn’t go far enough to give the full picture. Selma does that and more. President Lydon B. Johnson (played in the movie by Tom Wilkinson) didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history and as was shown in the movie, at the same time he didn’t want to be a champion for change at first. Even when he was forced to take action, he waited until almost the last minute to push for the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
…One thing Selma does masterfully is it humanizes all of the major players. Dr. King was the face of the Civil Rights Movement but he had alot of things going on behind the scenes your history books don’t talk about. Yes, his conversations were tapped by the FBI. Yes, people regularly called Coretta threatening to kill her and their children. Yes, their marriage was threatened by false alligations.
The showdowns between MLK and LBJ and later LBJ and Governor Wallace (played in the movie by Tim Roth) really stood out to me. That one on one conversaton with Wallace was clearly the deciding factor–at least in the film–that pushed LBJ to act. That said, I do wish to point out the movie doesn’t really go out of its way to paint anyone as a hero or a villain. The movie’s intent is to make the audience think and talk about the Present to Past connection with the protests of today.
Of course you don’t unless you were there. 1400 people were there and yet it got little media attention. This happened in Boston the day before Thanksgiving two months ago. A look at anything related to the protests on Social Media and you will see the opposition doing everything in their power to keep the attention away from the root of the problem. Pundits and Racists alike dismiss it as “a black thing”.
…Same thing happened 50 years ago.
The fact of the matter is, change is never easy. As the lyrics in the cover song Glory say, there needs to be a collaboration of the young and the old to move things forward.
There also needs to be a collaboration across the races. I intentionally kept this detail until now to say this: When I went to see Selma this afternoon, the theater was packed. I looked around before and after the film ran and noted at least 90% of the audience was white. I admit I was more focused on listening to the audience’s reaction to the film at certain points. The liberal use of the word “Nigger” as well as other, more known expletives by Governor Wallace and LBJ drew shocked reactions. The difference betweeen LBJ and Wallace, however was Wallace was clearly a racist. The distinction is made crystal clear during their showdown in the Oval Office.
A powerful learning moment happened after the first march was driven back. One of the marchers is angered and wants to retaliate with violence when Andrew Young (played in the film by Andre Holland) confronts him and and lays out the cold facts of the only possible outcome retaliation will cause. You take the violence to the police and they come down hard on you.
To me, that felt like a direct message to those who’ve taken up the New Civil Rights Movement in recent months. This is why I said at the top this movie was released at the right time.
Anyway, I think I’ve gone on long enough. I give the movie a 10/10. This movie, like the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner are symbols of the New Civil Rights Era. The torch has been passed. I think now is the time for those who were on the front lines 50 years ago to step in and impart some wisdom on the new generation.
They’re ready to listen now.