The movie Selma is a dramatic portrayal of how history was made by African-American men, women and children and their white allies in Alabama, the cradle of the confederacy. It’s about people who decided to take a stand and make the ultimate sacrifice. The opening scene is in Birmingham where the KKK blew up more Black churches than anywhere in the United States. Thus right away we are thrust into the thick of things, the real dirt and blood of battle of the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1960s with all the emotional and physical pain one can bare. Through the eye of the camera we are immediately swept into the graphically violent acts of KKK terror.
True art imitates life but it can never be art for art’s sake. The most elevated art is but a reflection of the struggles, ideas and inspiration of a particular nation, class or race. Through her eloquent and powerful graphic presentation of events leading up to the historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Ava DuVernay, the director and producer of the film, has shown us more social and political truths than all the politicians, pundits and moralists put together. She achieved this by giving a truthful depiction, by having a concrete historical approach to the events described and by giving depth and content to the ideals and genuine passions that express the many-sided facets of individual characters.
There is no abstract moralizing, no impersonations instead of live characters. The cast of characters, Dr. King, Coretta, Malcolm X, LBJ, J. Edgar Hoover manifest from the actions they are engaged in the purpose and direction of the movie. There are bombings, police brutalities and murder, jailing and repression served up by racist white mob violence, the local police and highway patrol. There is the FBI harassment orchestrated by J. Edgar Hoover and buttressed by the political chicanery of LBJ; and yet these courageous people continue to march and protest, continue to rise up in spite of threats, murderous violence, slander and numerous dirty tricks.
They dared to struggle and dared to win. LBJ dared to try to hold the movement back and he lost. But the driving force in the fight for the right to vote was the people, that vast army of men and women who were workers, students, men of the cloth, mothers and their children, seniors, radicals, socialists and communists who put their bodies on the line over and over again; these were the people who came face to face with the armed might of the state, who bled and died in the streets of Selma and yet did not falter in their resolve to march on. It was these people and their leaders, who walked through the valley of the shadow of death, that gave us our finest hour and that fleeting moment of glory before the assassin’s bullet found first Malcolm and then King.
Those who decry this movie as a farce because it didn’t make LBJ the hero who saved the day are a farce themselves. I am talking about the New York Times and the Washington Post and all their cohorts. Go see the movie and I promise you, that because you have a conscience it will speak to you in the words of Dr. King: “No lie can live forever…Truth crushed to earth shall rise again…I have seen the promised land…I fear not any man…mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
This is the movie for the world to see because it gives to one an inside look into one of the most racist and oppressive societies known to humanity. But you can’t venture to look and not be moved in your heart and mind to detest the cruelties of racism and to love and be in solidarity with those who fight back. If you are in the struggle it will inspire you to stay in and give more, if you are not it may inspire you to join the struggle and make it your life.
Photo: Still from movie website.
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writers: Paul Webb and Ava DuVernay
Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
128 minutes, PG-13
Selma Movie – Glory Lyric Video
Frank Chapman is Education Director and member of the executive committee of the Chicago Alliance Against Racial and Political Oppression.