Lest we forget the Spring of 1965 in Alabama, seminal in the Civil Rights movement, Ava DuVernay’s film ‘Selma’ from a script by Paul Webb is a moving, courageous and triumphant reminder. From the opening frames, we are both shocked and ironically liberated by the sudden and malicious murder of four young black girls attending church In Birmingham. DuVernay’s camera lingers mercilessly and with purpose on their young motionless limbs amidst the rubble of a racially motivated bomb explosion. The horrible shock gives way to a liberating freedom to emote grief, sorrow and remorse for the senselessness of a violent act that occurred more than 50 years ago, of a time when very close to home, ignorance and injustice were fully supported by institutions of government. DuVernay’s early choice gives us the context and moral amplitude to participate in her depiction of those months leading up to Martin Luther King successfully forcing LBJ to put forward the Voting Rights Bill of 1965. It is also a stark reminder of the racially driven violence we still see all too regularly around the world.
Selma also reminds us that the Civil Rights movement is as important a piece of history now as it has ever been. Months before the Spring of ‘65, LBJ successfully passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and while the Act was a significant piece of legislation, it was virtually ineffective in stemming the frustration of these rights by the southern states, and most notoriously by Governor George Wallace of Alabama. While DuVernay gives us an intimate portrait of Martin Luther King through this film, it is not, thankfully, a reverence at all costs bio-pic about him. It is a carefully crafted recreation of the events and strategies that led to Johnson’s implementation of the the Voting Bill. It is in fact, a collective homage to King’s intimates, the SCLC, and the men and women who led the march from Selma to Montgomery along with King; Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, John Lewis, Coretta King and many others, some of whom gave their lives in the now legendary and metaphoric march to freedom. What we see along the way is not just the vicious response of Wallace’s state troopers and Selma Sherrif Jim Clark’s officers, but how the leaders of the civil rights movement methodically strategized their protest to achieve their political goal.