“Selma” powerfully captures the character, vision and magnetism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – and, thankfully, that of his wife.
David Oyelowo as Dr. King and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King are revelations. Close your eyes, to hear MLK’s voice in Oyelowo’s cadence. As you open them, Ejogo passes for Mrs. King’s twin.
The film briefly touches upon King’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture, then jumps to events before the march he led into Selma.
MLK’s best-known frailities briefly enter the story. Yet, a viewer’s knowledge of that gives context to his courage. She forgave him, and he persevered knowing his secrets were being used against him.
A major criticism: An otherwise effective screenplay by Paul Webb distorts President Lyndon B. Johnson’s views. This is not a quibble, but a concern for posterity. Yes, every historical movie takes liberties. Still, great care is needed in presenting the views of real people.
LBJ’s views on racial justice are portrayed inaccurately. The grandeur of the 1965 federal push for votings rights, perfectly delivered by actor Tom Wilkinson, is eroded by a narrative that makes him seem a reluctant warrior. There is evidence Johnson was racist in his early years of Texas politics, but not as vice president and president.
A minor criticism: The film under-portrays the part Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo) played in the movement of American equality, and in King’s inner circle. Depictions of Dr. King’s other close associates – Andrew Young (André Holland), Rayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and especially of John Lewis (Stephan James) and Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce) – are stellar. And, credit hip-hop artist Common for a deft turn as James Bevel.
Despite any limitations, the movie is highly recommended. Costuming, filming, manners of speaking, and the characters’ language evoke an era, with a rare quota of anachronisms. At the heart of the film reside Dr. King’s humanity and deep faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior.
It is rated PG-13, as it must be. Accurately portrayed is the violence racists inflicted on civil rights supporters of every hue in the 1960s. Wrenching and heart-breaking is the opening sequence bearing witness to the fate of five lovely African-American girls.
“Selma” is noble film-making. It is a timely reminder that, as MLK would say, justice is not only a destination, but also a journey.
Martin Luther King understood we are unlikely to reach true justice in this fallen world. The struggle itself is part of faithful service to the One Who redeems us, and Who can yet sustain America.