The historical drama ”Selma” comes on the 50th anniversary of the epic march for voting rights that Martin Luther King led across that bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. The nonviolent struggles of the civil rights movement and the violent response of white racists forced the nation’s political leaders to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and, after Selma, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. When these victories for social justice are set against current events – the Supreme Court overturning key provisions of the later and Republican legislatures across the country suppressing voting by minorities – we are reminded that the struggle must continue.
As the New York Times said in its review of the film, “Even if you think you know what’s coming, “Selma” hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling.” The principle figures of that drama are all there: King cajoling President Johnson to push legislation to protect voting rights, Johnson confronting Alabama Governor Wallace, King being challenged by young Black civil rights activist John Lewis (now Georgia Congressman Lewis), and Coretta Scott King wrestling with the turmoil of a marriage to a public figure and committed activist.
But the public conflicts were what drove this history: a white supremacist bomb killing little Black girls as they leave a Birmingham church, police beating peaceful demonstrators, the police shooting of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, and the beating death of James Reeb, a young Unitarian minister who had come down from Boston to join the struggle. While Martin Luther King is the central figure in this drama, we must remember that there was a cast of thousands whose struggle and sacrifice helped curve the arch of history toward justice.
If change was painful then, we shouldn’t expect it to be easy now.
Selma 2014 128 min