Is it just me or is there a paradigm in our society where Whites won’t see a movie because it has Black people? Is this a thing? I ask because most of the critics I pay attention to, who are White, have not seen Selma, including my friends and teachers, also White. Personally, I blame Tyler Perry; the man has ruined any hope for Black people gaining respect in Hollywood. Regardless, I wanted to see Selma after putting it off for so long.
The story chronicles Martin Luther King and his followers protesting in Selma, Alabama for voter rights. We begin at the very start of the movement, up until a march on Montgomery. And that is pretty much it. The story is very simple with nothing really special in regards to what it does.
But who says it has to be special? In my opinion, it succeeds by being relevant, especially in a time when our nation’s police are just a few court rulings away from going the way of British soldiers who thought they could tame the North Irish. Let us pretend for a moment Selma was not released in a time of civil unrest. Based on its own merit, how does it fare?
The story is less inspirational and more technical. Unlike movies cut from the same cloth, Selma is about a group people working to organize a successful protest. It is almost cloak-and-dagger when you see the layers of scheme both sides go to get what they want. It helps to see this movie with some historical context because the film avoids spelling out dates and events.
Characters and strong performances make Selma. The story centers on King, played by David Oyelowo, but a lot of attention is paid to his followers, the people who bore the brunt of the fight. In fact, most of the supporting cast stood on its own compared to the lead.
Carmen Ejogo as Coretta King was probably the best of all. You can see it on her face the anxiety she deals with having her husband in the line of fire. Tom Wilkinson played a great LBJ. You can feel the pressure he is under while dealing with the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam. Tim Roth was intimidating as Governor George Wallace when he plots to thwart King’s efforts.
A few notable actors appear in minor roles. Oprah shows up, but does not do much. I get the feeling she was cast on name alone. Common is… well, Common in the role of James Bevel. I assume he provided a song for the movie, but outside of that, I do not understand why he was cast, if only to stand in frame for a couple shots.
The direction is good, but also a source of complaint.
The story is simple and it would have helped if the camera work made it more than that. With the strong performances, Selma could have been shot to get as much mileage out of the actors as possible. If this were in the hands of Paul Thomas Anderson, I would find nothing to complain about.
I would go so far as to say the director should have copied Schindler’s List. That film is often remembered for its harsh content and even less so for being an utter masterpiece of filmmaking. There are little touches and camera work that should be in films like Selma.
Black or White, see Selma. It is very well done, despite my misgivings with the direction and cast. If it is still playing in your area, by all means see it, and skip Mortdecai.