Take a Drink: for every bit of information logged by the FBI.
Take a Drink: for every time you cry… you’re gonna need those drinks.
Take a Drink: every time Lyndon B. Johnson says “I can’t.”
Do a Shot: for every mention of Hoover’s creepy ass.
Take a Drink: in memoriam for all the men, women and children who took a stand and fought.
By: The Cinephiliac (Two Beers) –
The road to equality and civil rights has been one marked by broken bodies, bloodied faces, fractured bones, and death. Since the emancipation of slavery, African Americans have continuously worked long and hard through the Reconstruction Era, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement up til now to prove to the white supremacy that we all deserve the same respect and rights as those with fairer skins. Throughout the ongoing movements in the black community none compare in sheer volume and calculation to the Civil Rights Movement. With the help of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the 1960s, the hard work within the movement reached monumental levels of achievement and changed political structures as well as confronting the powers that be.
They were the Superman and Batman whose universe’s crossed for the greater good.
By 1964, Jim Crow laws were the status quo in Southern states which forebade blacks and whites from mingling and having platonic contact with one another. Fed up black citizens formed organizations all across the country with the Freedom Fighters, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee taking prominence in the South. The lower Bible Belt became a hotbed for demonstrations and marches. Selma portrays the period after a series of unfortunate events, [the Birmingham church bombings and the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, an innocent black man shot by a state trooper] and how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) set his sights on Selma, Alabama to organize a five-day march from Selma to Montgomery. Lo and behold bullheaded politicians and racist mindsets stand in their way as does a President (Tom Wilkinson) who is not prepared to change unless it’s under his own terms. These aggressions fuel the fire needed to make the Civil Rights Movement burst with ferocious activity.
“We shall not be moved”
Director Ava DuVernay does a fabulous job capturing the importance of the events happening in and around Selma during the 1960s. Though the film is ripe with bloodshed and violence, DuVernay instills a delicacy and deep emotion within Selma. The film begins on a preciously sweet note following a group of girls in their Sunday best, their hair tied in ribbons discussing the majestic nature of Coretta Scott King. Their fragile existence is shattered when a bomb blows through the church sending their tiny bodies flying through the space and air of fading edits that lingers on their limbs and pieces of debris. From this opening first impression, DuVernay sets the tone for the violence that is soon to come and the weeping that may drown viewers.
Selma hit a nerve with me deep down and fiercely. I cried throughout the film as though I had never known of the brutality of Selma. I cried as if the struggles of the fed up individuals had never been exposed to me before. Although the footage and images of events taking place in Selma have been with me my entire life, DuVernay’s dark moody portrayal of these events jolts viewers out of a passive watching experience and reminds us of the brutality that these people endured.
Paul Webb’s screenplay acts more as a clinical examination of the weeks leading up to Selma than it does a cohesive biography. J. Edgar Hoover’s (Dylan Baker) famed scorn for King is the catalyst of the film’s narrative. Hoover, who once wrote King a letter urging him to commit suicide (did I mention Hoover pretended to be a black man in the letter… and wore women’s underwear?), had the FBI track King’s every move over a span of years and likely had King assassinated. Hoover’s obsession with ousting King as a “fraud” and fearing the influence of the nonviolent preacher gets showcased through FBI logs that detail the whereabouts of King and his inner circle. It’s utterly chilling when a scene of King calling gospel singer Mahalia Jackson for a moment of clarity and revitalization is shown logged by informants bugging his phones and watching his every move.
“Can’t wait to get home and hate those who are different from me in my wife’s lace panties.”
While King’s inner circle is usually shunned out of the spotlight in films and documentaries focusing on his work, Webb brings light to many key figures alongside King such as John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and C.T. Vivian. But, the screenplay tends to either ignore or overdramatize moments of other civilian figures during the events at Selma. While key participants of the Selma movement get perfectly lit face-time, their importance is glossed over. Oprah Wimprey serves as Selma’s producer and also plays Annie Lee Cooper. Her character’s importance is her resilient desire to vote and the act of her punching a sheriff in the face. She’s giving her swinging moment in Selma, but with no focus on the aftermath or of the character itself it becomes questionable why she was so important that Oprah played her. This along with other moments that mix historical facts feel out of place.
Likewise Lorraine Toussaint plays Amelia Boynton with a fierce silence, barely given any lines or clarity in her involvement in the march aside from being an active participant. What the film doesn’t tell you is that Amelia was beaten almost to death during the first march to Selma and how her unconscious body lying on the concrete hit the front page of newspapers all across the country jolting comfortable whites who ate their breakfast. Selma tends to make light of the final march and ignores how the members walked about 10 miles a day and two of those days in the rain, sleeping in muddy fields at night before doing it all over again the next day. Selma covers a lot of ground, but unfortunately it Sparks Notes its way through important people and elements in the movement of Selma, leaving many of the characters as empty vessels for big named actors.
For the Fannie Lou Hamer’s and Amelia Boynot’s of the world
Nevertheless, Selma is an important piece of art and a needed facet in our country even today. It is a reminder of the systematic racism that still continues. It is the argument against those who think blacks should be happy just that we have a black man in office. It is a stern look to all those who claim that blacks should get over slavery. It is a poke in the eye of anyone screaming “post-racial society.” Selma is not a feel good movie for the year. Much like Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, Selma is gut wrenching and breathtaking in its reminders of the horrors that some of us are so lucky to have escaped. Selma’s not a film that you leave wanting to pat yourself on the back or feel comfortable to ignore. It is a film that can make you nauseous that still after all that has been fought for and achieved that we have a long way to go before blacks and white are truly treated and seen as a equals.