Black History Month Spotlight: Selma

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Zya Crawford

The movie Selma depicts the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (David Oyelowo) campaign to secure equal voting rights by marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. Today, the event is known as one of the most significant victories of the civil rights movement. Selma is an accurate biopic of MLK that stays true to the man that inspired so many.  

During the movie President Lyndon B. Johnson instructed the FBI to spy on King. However, according to The Washington Post, it was actually U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy who authorized the wiretapping of King’s home and office. One of the largest fallacies in the film was also one of the most challenging emotionally, according to director Ava DuVernay. Civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson shot dead in a restaurant by police officers, when in reality Jackson died days after the shooting. 

While MLK is revered as a Civil Rights pioneer now, back when he was an activist however, he lived a very dangerous life. His life as an activist in danger was well portrayed throughout the movie. MLK faced many death threats and harassment during his time within the movement. Even going as far to directly address the possibly he might die young. Director Ava DuVernay was very self-conscious about making sure every character was unabashed human.

“I wanted to try to make everyone as human as possible,” DuVernay said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That trap that I see so many non-black filmmakers do with black characters, where everything is surface and stereotypical…I didn’t want to be the black filmmaker that does that with the white characters,” 

While there are some very clear creative freedoms the movie takes, some choices were of a more practical variety. The Martin Luther King Jr. estate has currently licensed MLK’s speeches to a yet unproduced movie for DreamWorks and Warner Bros. This left the production of Selma to rewrite history and change the words to MLK’s famous speeches including his famous I Have a Dream speech. Both the rewrites to history and the internal conflict of Dr. King were treated with care and very pennant throughout the film.

Despite a lot of the film’s success, it wasn’t without its production difficulties. On top of the licensing problems, Selma’s original director, Lee Daniels, left the project to film “The Butler” leaving DuVernay to take over. DuVernay ended up rewriting the script uncredited due the contract logistics of previous writer, Paul Webb. Even despite these hurdles, DuVernay was able to make a very genuine film going as far as to hire extras from Selma, Alabama to give a sense of realism to the film. Selma’s success has led to DuVernay into becoming one the Hollywood’s most sought-after directors as she is set to direct DC comics “New Gods” movie.  

According to IMDB, the movie scored over $11 million opening weekends in the United States and grossed over $66 million worldwide. Of the 89 nominations over all award outlets it won 59 including Best Original Song for a Motion Picture at the Academy Awards. 

Even though Selma has been out for five years it continues to give glimpses to the sacrifices necessary for progress.

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