“Our lives are not fully lived if we’re not willing to die for those we love, for what we believe,” says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
One of my favorite films of 2012 was a little-seen independent film called Middle of Nowhere. It was about a woman who was struggling with balancing nursing school, an imprisoned husband she no longer loves, and a possible new love interest who can show her a better future. Among those who starred in the film was David Oyelowo, who shined as the love interest. The director of Middle of Nowhere was Ava DuVernay, who has emerged as one of the top directors to keep an eye on in the last several years (never mind the fact that she is also black and female). When I saw the trailer for Selma last year and found out that she was the director, my anticipation for the film significantly increased. I finally had the chance to see DuVernay’s Selma recently on the big screen, and it was as powerful as I had expected it to be.
2014’s Selma follows Dr. Martin Luther King’s efforts in early 1965 to help ensure that all blacks in the United States have the right to vote and are not discouraged from doing so. King concentrates his efforts in Selma, Alabama, where he plans a march to the state capitol but is met with several obstacles (including political) along the way. DuVernay assembled a strong cast that included David Oyelowo (as Dr. King), Tom Wilkinson (as President Lyndon B. Johnson), Carmen Ejogo (as Coretta Scott King), Wendell Pierce (as Hosea Williams), Tim Roth (as Alabama Gov. George Wallace), Giovanni Ribisi (as Lee C. White), Dylan Baker (as J. Edgar Hoover), Common (as James Bevel), Lorraine Toussaint (as Amelia Boynton Robinson), Tessa Thompson (as Diane Nash), Martin Sheen (as Frank Minis Johnson), Alessandro Nivola (as John Doar), Cuba Gooding Jr. (as Fred Gray), Oprah Winfrey (as Annie Lee Cooper), Stephen Root (as Al Lingo), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (as Bayard Rustin), and Niecy Nash (as Richie Jean Jackson). Oyelowo is a commanding presence as Dr. King; he’s soft-spoken a lot of the time and strong (but not overpowering) when he needs to be (Oyelowo should’ve been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor instead of American Sniper‘s Bradley Cooper). Wilkinson is also quite good as President Johnson, and was more deserving of a Supporting Actor Oscar nod than The Judge‘s Robert Duvall.
DuVernay’s direction is strong (she should’ve received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director). The screenplay by Paul Webb (with uncredited rewrites by DuVernay) smartly focuses on one specific event in King’s life, covering a period of a few months as well as capturing high and low points (including the troubles involving the first two marches, eventually culminating with the third and final march). The cinematography by Bradford Young is first-rate, as is the production design by Mark Friedberg and the costume designs by Ruth E. Carter (which successfully recreate the era they’re meant to depict). The end credits song, Glory, is a powerful anthem that deservedly won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Best Picture Academy Award nominee Selma is a powerful film that serves as a reminder of how much work went into obtaining a small but crucial victory during the civil rights struggle in the 1960s(not to mention how dangerous it really was).