There is a reason Ava DuVernay’s gripping and moving depiction of the pivotal months in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s heroic civil rights struggle is titled Selma, rather than Dr King, for instance. Selma is not a tale about Dr King; it is a tale about an epic movement, and a very specific critical point within that movement. The film’s scope is of the 1965 protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to secure voting rights for African Americans. Albeit Dr King – played with such fortitude and poise by British actor David Oyelowo – is central to the historic account, DuVernay’s film offers a nuanced portrayal of what drove the movement ahead rather than a simple re-enactment of the triumph.
“We negotiate, we demonstrate, we resist”, is the recurrent phrase uttered by King, throughout this Best Picture and Best Song Oscar-nominated film. Already at the heart of a sensitive debate about the very issues the film tries to resist and negate, Selma’s release has seen the rise of grievance about why the motion picture academy failed to nominate the film’s black director and black protagonist. At a time when black Americans are experiencing parallels to 1964 America – taking to political activism against media manipulation then seeing the intersection of both in regards to victimisation and racism – Selma could not have come at a better time. A few names spring to mind? Mike Brown, Eric Garner, just to graze your heart’s memory.
Although America now spends a day honouring Dr. King (a holiday first observed in 1986 though not by all states), Selma’s 2015 UK release celebrates the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Voting Rights Act and, extraordinarily though painfully, offers a shared experience that reminds us all of the sacrifice it took to get here. In essence, the film gives a platform for common ground and for the realisation of the power and ignition that unity brings. The matter of whether DuVernay and Oyelowo should have received a nod or not from the academy’s nomination panel aside, Selma surely makes you celebrate both a historical colossal personality and an unflinching creative accomplishment.
The film, in cinemas across UK on 6th February, had a special screening at Odeon Printworks cinema, Manchester – a week before its official release – where TNT was invited. The organisers, ‘Time With Natalie’, had a ‘Question and Answer’ session, chaired by Natalie, in which the audience, still “shaken, overwhelmed and moved”, shared their thoughts and ‘what-next’ social movement ideas from a local perspective.
“I must say I’m proud to be sitting in a room filled with people from many cultures and races. This [film] encourages us to love. Dr King was relentless. He died but he carried on and fulfilled his purpose. The diversity in this very room is a testament to what he fought hard for”, a white British gentleman in the room said, when asked about his thoughts on Selma.
When asked for a word that best summarises the swift 2-hour long film, the majority of the room cited, “Powerful, inspiring, revolutionary, hopeful and relevant”. On reflection of that latter word, perhaps what adds to the poignancy of DuVernay’s Selma is the unforeseeably perfect timing of its release. DuVernay’s film comes in a period of racially motivated unrest and revived public outrage over inequality within 21st-century America’s judicial system and federal injustice against black Americans. What the film ingeniously crystallises is that nearly half a century on from the historic march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, Dr. King’s nonviolent – not passive – resistance seems like a posthumous reminder; that the movement is not a relic tale for our textbooks, but a way of living for the black people.
TNT News Yasin Chinembiri