Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) starts a campaign for the blacks to have voting rights which they have been denied for no other reason but racial bigotry. He finds words with the president who can give him nothing more than assurances and he is left to see more and more black men and women die and their perpetrators walk free without any punishment for lack of jury and judges of their community. He calls for an epic walk to protest from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. The first wave is beaten back horrendously by the local authorities but the second wave led by King himself generates huge participation with almost 20% of the people turning up being Caucasian. Boyed by this epic turnout, King sets out to achieve which should have been the right of the blacks a long time ago.
The struggle and the victory won’t come easy. His personal life, his stature as a man and a leader and his patience and will are tested to the limits before he is able to achieve what he had set out to do. There are moments of doubt about his own action and how well it would go for his people? There are moments where his relationship with his wife is tested and in a fit of rage he foul mouths his own wife but all comes together in the end. A film like Selma has a big disadvantage to start with. That disadvantage is in the fact that the audience who cares to use Google knows exactly what would be the end to this film. That only leaves the interest in the journey that the characters take to arrive at the finale to be the only interest left in the film in terms of pull.
As the saying goes “sometimes the journey is more rewarding than the destination itself”, Selma takes you through a ride which will amuse you, enthrall you and at junctures shake you up. The film has a smashing sequence in the beginning wherein a black voter is denied the right to vote after being asked a series of ridiculous questions. This scene ends with a “denied stamp” being struck on her application and from here on the struggle starts. This lady appears throughout the film at different junctures reminding us again and again of what it is that we are fighting for in the first place in most subtle manner possible.
The film also takes a long and hard look at King’s relation with his wife. There are scenes where their relation is shown in tatters thanks to the constant crank calls and his wife’s fear for their children and King’s safety. The stress that his struggle for soul power brings in their household also becomes a problem for Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). She is constantly trying to cope up with the greatness of her man and also strike a balance in her personal and political lives. Selma is a character driven film and it needed the characters to be not only real but relateble. The cast has been successful in creating a sense of connect with the audience.
Some smaller parts are noticed too owing to the way they are presented and used. Tom Wilkinson as the president Lyndon B. Johnson is terrific. I simply loved his conversion with Tim Roth playing Governor George Wallace. The way the discussion goes and finally ends is both real and satisfying. Roth here has a shortish character but is thoroughly enjoyable. His hatred for the blacks are depicted on his face and in his expressions more than anything else. His words are however totally different which brings a stark contrast and charm to the character. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. is splendid. He does complete justice to the role. His sequences with his wife played by Carmen Ejogo are trifling. His eyes speak volumes and his words alone will make you feel the anger hatred and yet solemn strength that he holds in his heart for the cause.
Selma is a film which will make you feel sad and angry and rebellious, sometimes in the same scene and thats not saying it all. It is one of the purest and realest expression of a bad time gone by. In our almost perfect world today, Selma is a reminder of the lives lost and tortures endured to make the world the way it is. It is not exactly a history lesson but is accurate enough to be trusted and quoted. What Selma is apart from all said and done is a worthwhile piece of film making which makes you stand up and take notice. Another must watch if you are looking for authentic and sensible cinema.