What a stunning, important, moving, magnificent film. It might have not won the Oscar, but it will surely enter collective cultural memory and countless syllabi.
The entire ensemble of actors and actresses was great, lead by a brilliant David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. Great directing and cinematography, too. For me, the “4 little girls” bomb attack particularly stood out, but there were so many less showy, more mundane or domestic moments that were well done, too. Ava Duvernay did a really good job, I think, at showing Martin Luther King as a human – not a saint – and how important others were for the movement – John Lewis and SNCC, Coretta Scott King, the SCLC, but also local women and organizers in Selma. It’s hard to compare three so different movies as Boyhood, Birdman, and Selma, but Selma is the more important movie. If it’s better than Birdman (which I haven’t seen yet because I live in a cave) or Boyhood (which I also loved) I don’t know, but it’s certainly not worse.
Leading up to the Oscars, an anonymous Academy member claimed that Selma isn’t “art.” In a way, that is even true – if you think of “art” as “l’art pour l’art.” The skilled, artistic work in Selma was not its own end, but is used to create a profound impact and to tell the story of a struggle. A struggle that in many ways is still going on today. Watching the 1st Oval Office scene in which LBJ tells MLK that other issues are more important than the Black vote, I couldn’t help but think of the discussion going on on Twitter between certain White Feminists™ and people of color – particularly Black women – who criticized Patricia Arquette for her backstage remarks and the way Arquette’s framing erased Black women. After people (of color) pointed this issue out, they were immediately called divisive and told to focus on “bigger fish” like wage equality.
Many scenes of the march, particularly when the State Troopers put on their gas masks and clubbed men, women, clergy, and youngsters, immediately brought the last summer in Ferguson to mind. The story Selma tells isn’t over, yet, and the film makers know that. That makes the movie so important and so great.