Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alessandro Nivola
Director Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) will very likely make history in 2015 as the first African American female to be nominated for best director in the Academy Awards history. DuVernay will only be the 5th woman ever nominated in that category. It’s probably an insignificant trivia fact for some, but it’s one more example of the continuation of Martin Luther King’s fight for equality. First time screenwriter Paul Webb’s original screenplay for Selma doesn’t use the text book bullet points one might assume a film about Dr. King might encompass. This film, like its title suggests, isn’t about Dr. King specifically, but the events that took place in Selma, Alabama that involved an entire nation from President Johnson to your great grandmother.
The outside world applauded what Martin Luther King (Oyelowo) was trying to do in the southern states of America. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. “Motivated by dignity” sounded over the microphones to a welcome crowd. In one of his many meetings with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Wilkinson), King urged the most powerful leader in the world to enforce equal rights. The colored people of the southern states, including Selma, were being denied the right to vote (even though the law says they can), and when Johnson said it’s going to have to wait, King declared, “Selma is it”. It took whites and blacks being killed and splashed on the front page of the newspaper and on the nightly news to get Johnson angry enough to realize what needed to happen. While King himself brought embarrassment to his own household, he never lost site of the larger issue.
Selma focuses on the careful and calculated tactics of King and his organization to do things in the right way for the right reasons.
English actor Oyelowo was the main topic of conversation during a roundtable interview I did following the film Red Tails. The actor has just burst onto the scene, and his cast mates Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence Howard seemed to understand this was the beginning of a major career with the way they told stories about his craft on the set. Oyelowo has since then become one of the most in demand actors of his generation, delivering a head turning (and much overlooked) performance last year in The Butler and another small terrific turn this year in A Most Violent Year. He professes God told him to play MLK, and his uncanny resemblance to the historical figure allows the actor to dissolve into the role.
In good company, Oyelowo is joined by veteran Oscar nominated Brit actor Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), who was also quite brilliant earlier this year in Belle. Wilkinson’s Johnson is adversarial in nearly every scene that is sprinkled throughout the film. DuVernay doesn’t spend too much time with the president, but just enough to give us the sense of the arc and importance of King guiding Johnson to the correct point of action. The script also carefully addresses King’s affairs in a powerful scene where Coretta Scott King (played wonderfully by Carmen Ejogo) demands the truth. Like JC Chandor’s Margin Call or A Most Violent Year, we witness two sides fighting a battle that isn’t necessarily in combat. Selma focuses on the careful and calculated tactics of King and his organization to do things in the right way for the right reasons.
DuVernay is poised to make history, while Oyelowo and Wilkinson deliver memorable performances.