Movie Review


One dream can change the world.
Selma Movie Poster

US Release Date: 12-25-2014

Directed by: Ava DuVernay


  • David Oyelowo
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Tom Wilkinson
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Tim Roth
  • George Wallace
  • Giovanni Ribisi
  • Lee C. White
  • Carmen Ejogo
  • Coretta Scott King
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Annie Lee Cooper
  • Cuba Gooding Jr.
  • Fred Gray
  • Martin Sheen
  • Frank Minis Johnson
  • Dylan Baker
  • J. Edgar Hoover
  • Niecy Nash
  • Richie Jean Jackson
  • Nigel Thatch
  • Malcolm X
  • Common
  • James Bevel
  • Wendell Pierce
  • Reverend Hosea Williams
  • Andre Holland
  • Andrew Young
  • Stephan James
  • John Lewis
  • Lorraine Toussaint
  • Amelia Boynton Robinson
  • Colman Domingo
  • Ralph Abernathy
  • Keith Stanfield
  • Jimmie Lee Jackson
  • Tessa Thompson
  • Diane Nash
  • Ledisi Young
  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Ruben Santiago-Hudson
  • Bayard Rustin
  • Trai Byer
  • James Forman
  • Henry G. Sanders
  • Cager Lee
  • Charity Jordan
  • Viola Lee Jackson
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: December 26th, 2014
David Oyelowo is Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma.

David Oyelowo is Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma.

The danger of any biopic about as revered a figure as Martin Luther King Jr. is that it will treat him with such delicacy that he becomes a bland saint. That is not the case with this film. Here King is portrayed as a fully rounded and far from perfect individual. Instead of belittling his accomplishments, this actually makes them and this movie that much more impressive.

Calling this movie a biopic is actually a bit misleading as it doesn't tell King's life story, but simply one episode in it. As the title gives away, the plot revolves around the protests in Selma, Alabama, which were organized with the goal of striking down those restrictive laws that were preventing black citizens of the state from registering to vote. To show the extent of the problem, among the black population of Dallas County, of which Selma is the county seat, just 130 out of the 15,000 age eligible, were registered to vote. King and many other influential members of the Civil Rights movement descend upon the town, bringing the national media with them resulting in several clashes with the local police. A planned march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery leads to a nationally televised attack by the police on the marchers that draws attention to the cause.

The script assumes some knowledge of King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. There's little introduction to the characters and while the story is tense and entertaining enough to enjoy even if you aren't a student of the 1960s, having knowledge of Malcolm X, LBJ, George Wallace, and, of course, Martin Luther King Jr., will certainly help you understand the political machinations that are at work here.

British born David Oyelowo portrays King and the awards' buzz his performance has been generating is well founded. As I said, he isn't portraying King as any kind of saint. While his goal is admirable, that certainly doesn't stop him from getting his hands dirty in the murky waters of politics. He selects Selma because it's exactly the kind of place where he knows there will be clashes and arrests and because he knows these sorts of things will generate the most publicity. We also see that he is far from perfect in his personal life and his marriage experiences a few bumps. It's not an overly showy performance, but is instead a very real one.

The supporting cast is also quite good and equally British for some reason. Tom Wilkinson portrays LBJ and not always sympathetically. Although he appears to believe in the theory of King's work, he views the man himself as a thorn in his side. Fellow Brit Tim Roth plays Alabama Governor, George Wallace. Perhaps casting English actors helped portray these characters as more human since presumably they weren't as indoctrinated into viewing them in the same way as an American cast would have been.

Because the film rights to King's speeches have been licensed to Dreamworks for an untitled Steven Spielberg project, this film is unable to reproduce any of his actual words. Instead, screenwriter Paul Webb has written speeches that convey the same message and in the same style. I'm not a expert on King's life, but to my untrained ear he has done a remarkable job in capturing the spirit of his words.

If the film has any weakness it is in the dialogue. It feels very stilted and overly formal even in the quieter moments between two characters. It's not always a problem, but in several scenes it's noticeable enough to take you out of the story.

Selma is a movie that succeeds on several levels. It's not just educational and historical, but also tense and entertaining.

Reviewed on: January 10th, 2015
David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo in Selma.

David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo in Selma.

As Scott wrote, it isn't really accurate to call Selma a biopic of Martin Luther King Jr. since its focus is the voter rights movement that culminated in several marches in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Although King is at the center of the struggle this is much more than just one man's story. The contributions of many other key figures in the Civil Rights Movement are shown. And though some have complained about the portrayal of LBJ, he ultimately comes across as a sympathetic figure who signed into law the Voter Rights Act of 1965.

There is a tendency in our culture to paint leaders, especially martyred ones, as saints. As my brother mentioned, that isn't the case here. One scene in particular humanizes the man by showing his failings as a husband. Flaws that were infamously documented by the FBI through wiretaps of King's hotel rooms. Suddenly we aren't seeing the mythical preacher for justice but a husband caught cheating by his wife. It's a brilliant scene that humanizes King without intending to mar his legacy.

This movie perfectly demonstrates the important role that technology played in the advancement of civil rights. A role that King understood and orchestrated beautifully. Black and white images of police brutality were seared into the minds of American citizens all across the country through the power of television. Photographs were sent around the globe, proving the old adage that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Fair minded people everywhere could no longer ignore the injustices being perpetrated against American citizens simply because of the color of their skin.

All the awards buzz David Oyelowo's performance is generating is well deserved. He physically embodies the man and captures King's famous speaking voice without doing a mere impression. I think it may have helped that they couldn't use Dr. King's actual speeches since this gives the movie a feeling of being behind the scenes. We aren't merely watching reenactments of his famous orations. Again agreeing with Scott, Paul Webb has captured the spirit of his words, in particular the specific cadences of the southern black preacher that King so famously personified.

At times Selma is difficult to watch as horrific brutalities are committed against innocent human beings; made all the more disturbing by the fact that these are actual atrocities that happened in the land of the free and the home of the brave a mere half century ago. At the same time it uplifts the human spirit to see people of all races and religions come together for a worthy cause. Selma is a movie that should be seen by every American lest, as a nation, we forget the struggles of those who came before us as well as the transformative power of peaceful protest.

Reviewed on: January 21st, 2015
David Oyelowo and Tom Wilkinson in Selma

David Oyelowo and Tom Wilkinson in Selma

To me, Martin Luther King represents the very best of what it means to be an American. Protesting is a rich part of our history. From the suffragettes wanting the vote for women, to war protests, to protesting for civil rights or against nuclear power, Americans have never been shy about complaining. There have been the Wall Street protestors, the abortion protestors, for and against, and the fight for gay rights. The United States was founded by people who protested imperial rule.

King had political connections and access to the President. He understood the value of good PR. As Patrick noted, a picture is worth a thousand words. I liked how the reporter who hung around Selma looked on King with such admiration. The real value of a leader is their ability to attract followers and King drew people to him very naturally. Even though he was a thorn in Johnson’s side, the President respected him greatly.

The brutality the protestors endured makes for very tense scenes. I, and all rational people, believe in a world where we should all have the right to express our opinions. As more time goes by it becomes harder and harder to believe that one group of people treated another so badly simply because of the color of their skin. I agree with Patrick that such films as Selma should be watched, lest we forget the struggles of our nation’s past.

Like Scott, some of the dialogue took me out of the story. Some of the scenes contain exposition that seems more about civil rights in general than specifics of this story. A few too many scenes are so dialogue filled that the movie sometimes slows to a dreary pace. It was so slow at times that a man several rows in front of me in the theater fell asleep and snored through much of the middle of the movie.

As my brothers wrote, Selma does not give us a saintly view of King, making him all the more interesting. I liked the moment on the bridge where King turns and walks away. Was it out of fear for his own safety or the people he was leading? The movie lets you believe what you want. Considering how King met his maker, he had every right to proceed with caution.

Having just watched American Sniper, it is interesting to compare King and Chris Kyle. Both men risked their lives for something they each strongly believed in. Both had stress in their personal lives with wives who often seemed put upon. Kyle was noted for his kills while King was famous for his peaceful protests. Kyle served under an unsupportive President while King had to force Johnson to support him.

Selma is not as impressive as a story as it is a history lesson.  I learned much about King here and my respect for him has only grown because of it. This film should definitely be shown in schools. 

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