Selma represents the year’s biggest over-look in regards to the Academy nominations this year. Despite earning a Best Picture nomination, the only other presence the film has amongst the nominations is in the category of Best Song. This is incredibly surprising, especially when you consider the quality of the film in question. Selma is quite easily the best biopic amongst the nominations this year, as well as featuring the most powerful lead performance of the last year. Evidently the Academy seem to believe they covered themselves last year with 12 Years a Slave. Well, news flash guys, that’s not how representation works.
Rather than portraying the whole life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. (David Oyelowo), director/writer Ava DuVernay chooses to focus on a significant moment in the Doctor’s Civil Rights campaign, the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. The film depicts the struggles with both local Government authority and Presidential, as attempts to march are met with violence and hostility from those more close-minded American citizens. Through perseverance and unity, King and his loyal group of activists work hard to reach the ultimate goal of equal civil rights.
Choosing to focus on one pivotal moment in King’s life, DuVernay’s approach is smart in its focus, allowing for a more intimate portrayal of the man at a pivotal moment in his career and life. The vent itself is one which is a great demonstration of perseverance, and moral decency. Moments in history shape how we define significant figures, how we judge their worth, and while King has many moments in his life which would prove worthy as a focus for a film, the events that took place at Selma pushed King’s character to great lengths, showing both the best and worst of his character.
Through having an incredibly layered version of King to play, Oyelowo owns the roll with a commanding spirit and bravura. He has King’s speech patterns down to a tee, showing him as a more flawed version away from the microphone, yet an intimidating presence when he needs to be. It is a performance which has clearly been pain-painstakingly crafted; Oyelowo has engulfed himself in the figure of King and come out on the other side as a fine-tuned portrayal, rarely slipping out at any point.
Elsewhere in the cast, not many other performers get quite the same platform as Oyelowo to develop a convincing portrayal. Carmen Ejogo as King’s wife, Coretta, impresses, crafting a dignified presence in the strong figure that was the Doctor’s other half. Tom Wilkinson is given a rather gruff version of Lyndon B. Johnson to play, which is one of my (and many others) major gripes with the film. Johnson and King’s relationship was one of profound mutual respect (I’m keen on my American History), yet the film portrays Johnson as a more of a hindrance than an ally at times. It seems an odd decision to make, and one which paints the film in a bit more of an aggressive fashion than it needs to be. There is enough tragedy and hardship already to face, so it seems strange that conflict should be generated within a relationship that thrived on mutual respect.
There is a great deal of anguish and tragedy throughout the proceedings which amounts in an incredibly affecting account of racial tension. DuVernay mines the film for all its dramatic potential, and truly makes the devastating factors resonate within the concious. This is a dark moment in human history, and rather than sugar-coat the actions in a cliff note version of history, DuVernay presents moments of violence which are as unsettling as they are pivotal to the movement, and ultimately its success. The 12A certificate may seem a bit lenient, but I think it is an important move to allow the film to be more accessible to younger generations as the lesson this film teaches is incredibly important, and the more people who can access it, the better.
Selma demonstrates that a lot has been achieved in the fight for equality across mankind, but recent events in society, namely the tragic case of Eric Garner, highlight that we may not have come as far as we may hope. There is a certain amount of this awareness present in the way DuVernay conducts her account of events, and it is this aspect which makes Selma a film that is as equally important as 12 Years a Slave, if not more so. Much more resonates in this tale of history, and while it may be uncomfortable at times, it is pivotal viewing,