"What I do know is, he's non-violent. What I need to know right now, what's Martin Luther King about to do next."
I will be honest, Selma was in deep danger of becoming overrated for me as I did not see it prior to the Oscar announcements and the massive outcry against the academy for not including it in anything other than Best Picture and Best Song. So can it live up to the expectations of being the best film not included in the awards?
In 1965 the small town of Selma, Alabama became the political focus of the world as a civil rights march led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr (David Oyelowo). But the peaceful protesters meet violent resistance from both the authorities and the unsympathetic public. The voting rights of African-Americans are at stake and the potential to change the world may be ignited here.
To be honest (again) when I first heard about this film, my initial reaction was, ‘haven’t they done that already? But after looking I discovered that no one ever has. Despite the tremendous historic significance and true drama on display throughout that fateful day it’s taken fifty years for Hollywood to make movie depicting these events. Maybe they have done that on purpose but all the same, the potential here is unparalleled with such a recognised and important figure in global history.
There is a good reason why everyone is talking about David Oyelowo’s sub at the Oscars, because he’s bloody brilliant. He perfectly presents a more reluctant and vulnerable side to Dr King as well as that heroic and confident public leader that we know him to be. His British accent is consumed by an exquisite approximation of Dr King’s voice that nails the figure repeatedly, you can see why thousands followed him and millions idolise him. But at the same time there’s that beautiful human element that turns Dr King into, just a person someone who believes in their cause but still doubts it and questions whether he will succeed, which is what all biopics should do.
Oyelowo is also backed up by a very strong supporting cast. They all provide different viewpoints of this epic struggle such as Oprah Winfrey being denied the right to vote and Tim Roth as the governor of Alabama George Wallace whose strong dignity sometimes makes you forget about his far from politically correct views. Tom Wilkinson also does fine work as Lyndon B Johnson, president torn between motives on what stand to take on this whole movement.
Selma follows the recent trend of biopics that started with Lincoln (I think) and rather than try to depict the entire life of their subject they take a small yet significant aspect of their life and focus on that instead. This allows them to go into further detail and examine the motives and emotions of the subject at that point, rather than a brief overview. Selma does this very well, it captures all the tension, the activism and the hopefulness of the civil rights movement at its height. We don’t just see its leader, we witness the followers, the quiet supporters, the opposition. You get an excellent and thorough view of all the participants of the march.
Though it’s hard to watch, Selma hits the same great note that the Imitation Game did last year in that it may be tragic in many respects, but it acts as a celebration of everything that has been accomplished and how far America has come, with a small hint at how far they still need to go. Sometimes it can be horrifying but the inspiration and aspiring affect it had on me certainly captured the reasons why we idolise King as a great leader, activist and human being.
Any flaws Selma has are mainly due to a lack of budget, some shots of thousands marching can be spoilt by some dodgy CGI and occasionally shot in a rather standard manner for a film that was met with such support after being denied a best director nomination, the direction isn’t bad but it can be slightly conventional at times.
Selma is inspirational and motivational but also brutal for the need of historical tension. Sometimes tragic and frequently thought provoking, less of a biopic and more of a time capsule.